Who will be the next ‘United Breaks Guitars’? Don’t let it be you!

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In 2008, Dave Carroll’s guitar was broken by United Airlines. Unbeknown to United at the time, Dave Carroll is a Canadian musician and a member of the band ‘Sons of Maxwell’. As a result of the lack of desire demonstrated by United to deal with the issue, Dave felt that his only option was to reach out to social media to share his experience with as many people as possible. Over 14 million views and 150 million impressions later, Dave certainly got his voice heard. A huge public relations embarrassment for United, their share price suffered significantly immediately after the song went viral.

Six years later, I regularly show the United Breaks Guitars video with people all over the world – if you have never seen it, you must watch it now by clicking here! Every time I share the video, it reminds me of the power the consumer  has at their disposal in the digital world we live in. Six years after Dave’s experience, we are arguably in an even more commanding position to get our voices heard by the masses, even if the companies we interact with directly appear not to be listening.

The threat of consumers taking ‘matters into their own hands’ has not appeared to change the way organisations behave. As customers continue to experience substandard experiences on a regular basis, many of them are still faced with uninterested, apathetic companies who make it remarkably difficult to get issues resolved. Some would argue that United were just plain unlucky to encounter someone like Dave Carroll – it is not every customer who will go to the lengths of writing a song about their poor experience. However, it is only a matter of time before a viral customer experience public relations disaster could hit any business…….. and that leads me very nicely on to a story that might just be the next one to do it…..


Meet Maggie and David Wheeler. Many Customer Experience professionals will know them well – Maggie and David are the very successful owners of an events company called The Focus Group. Their company produces the Customer Experience World Franchise – Customer Experience Conferences in the UK, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. They know a bit about the world of Customer Experience! They are right in the middle of an horrific experience with British Gas – they are keen for their story to be heard and shared. Have a read….

In August 2012 we moved our home and business  to the Midlands.  We rented out our property in Oxford and took out a ‘Homecare’ insurance policy with British Gas to cover servicing of boiler, pipes etc. Since 2012, we have had the same tenants – they signed a three year contract.  When the tenants took the property over,  they chose Scottish and Southern to provide their gas and electricity.  In October 2013 they switched their electricity over to British Gas but were told they couldn’t move the gas supply as it wasn’t in their name!  It transpired that a bill of over £1,800 was outstanding to British Gas – but they had never been the gas supplier!!  After 50 calls between British Gas and Scottish Southern,  I received a panicked phone call from our tenant in March 2014 to say that British Gas had served a warrant to ‘rip out’ the gas meter!!

Apparently, letters had been going to the property for the attention of ‘The Occupier’ since September 2012 – so as many people will do, the letters were destroyed without being opened (we can only assume in hindsight that they were bills and letters of threat).  The tenants are still with British Gas and are paying back the money in monthly instalments. However, their Experian records have been black listed for the debt even though the account wasn’t in their name!  Please note the debt built up because they thought they had changed over to Scottish and Southern but found out later that they hadn’t!!!! Confused – we were!

The tenant had numerous conversations, trying to explain British Gas that they were NOT the gas supplier to the property but they wouldn’t listen. So the day  my tenant contacted me was they day discussions had reached the extent of pulling out the meter and taking court action for non payment!!  Even though British Gas were NOT the supplier of gas to the property, my tenant offered to pay £500 on account while they settled the issue – British Gas refused to take their money as the account wasn’t in their name!  It was only then that it was revealed that the account was in our name!  When this was brought to my attention, I was in disbelief that how could this happen! I had never opened an account foe the supply of gas with them! I contacted British Gas and explained that I had a Homecare plan …. It took a week of numerous calls before they finally came back to me. British Gas apologised – they were extremely sorry but it appeared that there had been confusion and the account must of been sent up because I had a home care plan and they ASSUMED they also provided the gas supply.  They assured me it had been corrected and that was the end of that.

However, unfortunately for us, the story goes from bad to worse! Three weeks ago as we were turned down on finance for a car – Dave and I were both really shocked, it wasn’t a great deal of money but none the less this really concerned us as we have no debt and have always paid our bills on time etc…  We immediately registered to obtain our credit file from Experian – I was absolutely shocked to find I had 11 plus counts of missed payments to British Gas!  I contacted Experian and they talked me through my report and explained how the scores work.  My records were showing the number of missed payments consecutively put my account into ‘Delinquent’!!  I explained the situation to them, and they asked for me to get in contact with British Gas to remove the missed payments.

I decided to take the issue straight to the Executive team (I was connected with Darren – he works for the board to placate customer complaints to try and mitigate out of court settlements and to avoid going to court).  I spoke to Darren and explained the situation and he went away to investigate, He came back with a letter for me to send onto Experian to eradicate the listings (which has now been done) and was going to investigate how this happened.

A week later I am still waiting for a full explanation as to how this all happened. How did British Gas open an account in our names, without our consent?  They had no bank details and there was no gas supply to the property. The emotional damage to us and our business is significant. The effect on our credit rating has hit everything we do – and the whole situation had NOTHING to do with us!!

I few years ago, I asked Dave Carroll to come and speak at Customer Experience World – we have become good friends. I feel as though the indifference being shown by British Gas towards the entirely avoidable issue and their inability to resolve it is similar to the indifference shown by United Airlines to Dave. I therefore reached out to Dave to see if he could help me.

This is quite a story – one that has thankfully never happened to me and hopefully never will. Due to a ‘mistake’ by British Gas, the lives and livelihood of two completely innocent people has been detrimentally affected by the actions. Mistakes can be forgiven – if they are rectified quickly – if United had just paid for Dave’s broken guitar, the song would never have been written. Dave responded to Maggie’s plea for help – this is the email he sent to British Gas:

Dear Darren

My name is Dave Carroll.  I’m the creator of the Youtube viral video called United Breaks Guitars that has over 14 million hits and well over 150 million impressions.  It was also the #1 music video in the world for the month of July 2009 and has been studied at universities the world over.

As a result I have become an active consumer advocate, author, keynote speaker, and advisor to large and small business on how to be a more effective storyteller in the digital age.
My friend Maggie Wheeler has shared her awful experience with British Gas and explained how her business and credit has been damaged through absolutely no fault of her own.  While she said nice things about you personally, as a customer her story represents a cautionary tale that citizens in the UK and perhaps an international audience would be shocked to hear.
Despite being asked daily to create content for others in need, I very rarely have, but you should know that Maggie has asked for my help to position her story truthfully and authentically in a way that might stand out using social media.  I have accepted her invitation and am now actively involved.
While I am Canadian, my grandmother was English and I hold a British passport. The thought of people without the means to defend themselves against practices like the ones Maggie has experienced motivates me greatly.  It could very well have been my grandmother or someone just like her.  I think millions of UK citizens will join this conversation soon

Powerful stuff from the man who knows the effect that social media can really have. As of the date of posting this blog (28th November 2014), British Gas have still not resolved the issue (despite being promised a response by Darren by the 24th November). The big question now is – will they become the next ‘United Breaks Guitars’?

I genuinely hope this does not happen. If you know a mistake has been made and a consumer has suffered as a result of the mistake – sort it out – and quickly. British Gas have offered a cursory amount of financial compensation, but this is not really about money. There is no excuse for indifference, inaction and a negative attitude. I’ll keep you posted as the story progresses.

The big ‘Wi-Fi’ conundrum: a way to make money or a way to give customers what they need?

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs  is a psychological theory proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. The theory is most commonly portrayed in the shape of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental levels of human needs at the bottom and with the ultimate need for self-actualization at the top.

71 years later, it could be argued that Maslow’s perception of what constituted basic physical needs has been surpassed by something even more fundamental. Those of you who have ever seen the reaction of teenagers who have experienced a failing Wi-Fi connection will know exactly what I am talking about.  Fellow Customer Experience specialist, Dr Nicola Millard, once said that the best way to reprimand your misbehaving children is not to send them to their room – it is to remove their Wi-Fi!!

In 2014, Wi-Fi has become such a critical part of our day to day lives that it is difficult to imagine how we might exist without it. We need W-Fi for work; at school; to order our shopping; to control our heating; to stream our entertainment – it literally is an essential part of day to day living. We have become so dependant on Wi-Fi, it is becoming increasingly frustrating when we are unable to access it – a problem that is still very common. What is even worse is when we are lured in to thinking we can access it, only for our hopes to be dashed!

I travel regularly with Virgin trains – their Wi-Fi has not worked properly for the last couple of years – it is Soooooo frustrating!!! Our need for Wi-Fi has become so critical that most consumers see it as a basic requirement when interacting with organisations – unfortunately, many businesses do not quite see it that way. As we approach the end of 2014, I am amazed at the number of companies who fall into one of the following three categories:

  • We have Wi-Fi but if you want to use it you must pay for it
  • We will let you use our Wi-Fi for a short period of time for free before you must start paying for it
  • We do not have Wi-Fi available for our customers

There are a growing number of companies who fall into this category

  • We provide free unlimited Wi-Fi to all of our customers

However, how many companies could/should be in this category?

  • We provide free unlimited Wi-Fi to all of our customers whilst collecting hugely valuable data and insight about them to help us serve them better

The provision of Wi-Fi has led to the creation of a Customer Experience Conundrum – should my company look at it as a way of making money out of customers (revenue stream), or should I offer it completely free to my customers as they consider it a basic requirement (customer experience advocacy driver).

Companies that see Wi-Fi as a revenue stream will ultimately have to change their perspective. The key driver of customer dissatisfaction with Premier Inn, one of the UKs biggest hotel chains is that fact that their wi-fi is not free – it is for 30 minutes, but that is not good enough. The hotel industry is one that needs to recognise the importance of Wi-Fi as a driver of customer dissatisfaction. You may not know that there is a website that enables consumers to check the wi-fi provision at hotels all around the world – the fact this website exists suggests how important wi-fi is.

Companies that have incorporated free wi-fi into their experience are reaping the benefits. It is not often you will see an empty McDonald’s – at any time of the day or night. Last year I wrote about the influence free Wi-Fi has had on their proposition – you can read it here. Free Wi-Fi will give your customers a reason to keep coming back to you. If you are faced with a decision of visiting two cafés – one has Wi-Fi and one does not – which one are you more likely to enter?

What to do about Wi-Fi is a similar conundrum to the subject of ‘free delivery’ faced by retailers four to five years ago. Reluctant to give up a ‘revenue stream’, would failure to offer a free delivery option ultimately lead to losing customers altogether? In 2014, the vast majority of retailers now offer a free delivery option – free delivery became a basic…… in the same way free Wi-Fi is today.

The wonderful thing about Wi-Fi is that it is becoming easier and easier for companies to make it accessible for free to customers whilst at the same time maximising the benefits of doing so. Last year I met a lovely lady called Lisa Rhodes. Lisa works for a company called Express Data who is helping thousands of organisations in the UK understand how free Wi-Fi can benefit both customers and the businesses that offer it to them. Essentially, Lisa helps to put in place a Social W-Fi and Analytics solution. The principal of Airtight Wi-Fi is to combine Social Media with Wi-Fi and Analytics – all with the objective of driving better engagement with customers. To achieve the ultimate goal of more loyal customers, giving them free Wi-Fi is now imperative!!

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It is really quite clever stuff – that gives customers what they NEED, whilst at the same time delivering a wealth of insight and knowledge to help you maximise your relationship with them. This is why the answer to the conundrum is a simple one for me. Offering free Wi-Fi to customers is a no brainer – fail to do so and your customers will eventually go to someone else who offers it for nothing. Offering free Wi-Fi without utilising any information it can give you is a huge missed opportunity. In 2014, it is not only our basic needs as humans that have changed. If you can use technology better to help you understand how to engage more closely with customers, your future will look even rosier.

If you want to know more about Airtight Wi-Fi, you can contact Lisa on +447762 887716 or email her at Lisa.Rhodes@expressdata.co.uk

Announcing the Customer Experience Academy: helping you to become a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP)

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The 3rd July 2014 was a significant milestone for me and my career. On this date I became a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP). For the last twenty years I have been working across multiple industries to help businesses improve their ability to meet the needs of colleagues and customers. To now be able to demonstrate that my expertise is worthy of a professional qualification is a wonderful thing. For all professionals working in the customer experience field, the fact that a professional qualification now exists is huge recognition of how the world has woken up to the significance of the Customer Experience skillset.

Since July, I have spoken to Customer Experience professionals all over the world about the qualification. There is a definitive level of excitement about CCXP and a growing number of people are keen to know how to certify. It is for that reason that the Customer Experience Academy (CXA) has been created – with the specific remit of helping Customer Experience Professionals to achieve CCXP status. The key headlines of the CXA are as follows:

  • Created by CXPA Board Ambassadors and industry experts
  • Materials designed and delivered by Certified Customer Experience Professionals
  • 2 day training course with pre and post work activity
  • Training is aligned to the six CCXP competencies
  • Mock exam included in the training
  • All attendees to receive a ‘personal development plan’
  • Further follow up mentoring available
  • Printed and electronic materials provided to all attendees

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The programme is aimed at all levels of Customer Experience Professional – from experienced professionals who want to validate that they are ready to go through the certification process, to individuals who are in the early stages of their career but aspire to become a CCXP.

The first training programme will be run on the 3rd and 4th February in London. This will be a public course. The CXA are able to offer in house training programmes if required. You can find out more and register for the first programme here.

You can find out more about CCXP via the dedicated website. If you want to know more about the Customer Experience Academy and the CCXP training programme, please contact me via email ijgolding@Hotmail.com or on 07770736832.

Achieving CCXP status will help increase your level of authority as a Customer Experience professional within your business – we very much hope that we can help you start or continue your journey!

The Customer Experience Academy CCXP Training Programme – London, 3rd & 4th February 2015

Explaining the power of customer expectation: stories of splashing sinks, free tea and broken curtains!

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Last week was as manic as they get for me. Prague, Oxford, London and Copenhagen were all on my itinerary in a mad, exciting and fruitful five days. Despite all the travelling I do these days, I am still someone who gets excited about travelling to places I have never been before. I often do not get much chance to see the sights and experience the culture, but I do get the opportunity to eat nice food, stay in good hotels and travel with well known operators. In my experience, the prospect of travel creates a nice equation – especially when put in the context of customer experience – the equation is as follows:


Even when travelling for the purposes of work, we all feel that sense of excitement and anticipation. Both of these emotions build a level of expectation that presents a challenge for the organisations we interact with – the challenge being that it is their role to try to meet it!

Last week I had very high expectations of three particular organisations – the W Hotel in Leicester Square; Scandinavian Airlines (SAS); and the Admiral Hotel Copenhagen. The question is, would they be able to meet my expectations or not? If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will be aware that I do have high expectations. I do not consider my expectations to be too high – rather I feel that my expectations represent the minimum that customers SHOULD expect as given.

Let me start with the W Hotel in Leicester Square. If you have not heard of W Hotels before, they are part of the Starwood Hotels empire. Starwood boast the Sheraton and Le Meridien brands among their portfolio and are well known for delivering very good customer experiences. W Hotels are intended to provide customers with ‘iconic design and contemporary luxury to set the stage for exclusive and extraordinary experiences’. Sounds good does it not?! Here is the full blurb (promise) from their website:

Escape to where iconic design and contemporary luxury set the stage for exclusive and extraordinary experiences at W Hotels® Worldwide. Retreat to surprising, sensory environments where amplified entertainment, vibrant lounges, modern guestrooms and innovative cocktails and cuisine create more than just a hotel experience, but a luxury lifestyle destination.

Having browsed their website, my expectation equation kicked in to gear. My levels of excitement and anticipation were pretty high. It is not surprising when you consider what I had read and seen on the website. As I approached the brilliantly located hotel on the corner of the genuinely iconic Leicester Square in London, I could not wait to see what lay in store.

There is no denying that the hotel is very different. It looks and feels more like a nightclub than a hotel. The word I would use to describe it is ‘cool’. Cool does not come cheap however – and as I checked in, my excitement and anticipation monitors remained high. I found my bedroom down a very dark (or seductively lit) corridor. Outside my bedroom I found a tray with a used glass on it. Not what I expected to greet me in the coolest of cool hotels. The fact it was still there four hours later was disappointing.

The seductively dark (and dingy) corridors at the W Hotel
The seductively dark (and dingy) corridors at the W Hotel
Whose glass is this?
Whose glass is this?

Inside the bedroom I was greeted by more cool…….and a sink in the middle of the room! Yes, at the W Hotel, the sink(basin) is on an island that doubles up as a desk in the middle of the room. The toilet and shower are both hidden behind mirrored doors. The design of the room was excellent and very very cool. A huge kingsize bed sat on a shag pile rug in front of a large plasma screen TV. Peeking out of the window I could just see Leicester Square itself – not bad. However, cool does not necessarily mean that this room met my expectation.

Turning on the tap (faucet) to wash my hands, my anticipation and excitement monitors started to decline. Whilst the sink and tap combo look great, it is doubtful whoever designed it, or anyone in management from W Hotels has ever tried to use it. I was immediately covered in water. However hard or soft I turned the tap, you could not use the sink without getting covered in splashing water. This meant that the floor of the bedroom was also soaking wet. Not good design.

The offending (but cool) W Hotel sink
The offending (but cool) W Hotel sink

There were other design issues. The shower was in an enclosed cubicle – I could not put the shower mat outside the door as I was then unable to open the door. I could not put it inside the cubicle or it would get soaking wet. This may seem like a pretty minor issue to you, but to me it is an outcome of poor design. Once again, the floor of my bedroom was wet.

When I add in the fact that free Wi-Fi was limited to two hours and that I was asked for ID (my passport or driving licence) on arrival (something that I have not been asked for in a UK hotel for the last three years), the W Hotel had eroded a significant chunk of my anticipation and excitement monitors. The reality is that all I will remember from this cool hotel is that it was a very expensive way to get a wet suit. Its coolness was not enough to meet my basic expectations. It fell a long way short of exceeding them. The ultimate result is that I will not stay in a W Hotel again.

W Hotels were not the only brand to fail to meet my expectation last week. I was excited to fly to Copenhagen with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). Having heard and read a lot about them over the years, I was anticipating and excited to see what they had on offer. I expected it to feel a somewhat better experience than other airlines. To cut a long story short, I should have known better. A couple of weeks ago, I asked a room full of European air travellers if any of them had felt ‘good’ about their flight in the last 24 hours. Not a single person put their hand up! The reason for this is that few (if any) airlines are able to offer an experience that is better than anyone else.

My flights with SAS felt just the same as any other short haul airline – no better and no worse. However, the fact that my flights were in excess of £500 meant that the experience actually felt far worse. Even free coffee and tea (excitedly promoted by the cabin crew) was not enough to leave me feeling disappointed. The result – why travel with SAS when I could have flown with Easyjet at a fraction of the price.

A free cup of tea is not enough to save SAS from failing to meet my expectations
A free cup of tea is not enough to save SAS from failing to meet my expectations

Although my flight to Copenhagen was not as good as I expected, I was anticipating a recovery on arrival at my hotel – the Admiral Hotel Copenhage. Having reviewed the website, I was excited about staying in the stunning and beautifully restored 18th century warehouse on the waterfront in the heart of the city. Again, the price led me to set my expectation in the very high category.

Once again I was disappointed. Although the design of the hotel was good, the design of the rooms was less so. My room was split level – the bedroom nestled on a mezzanine floor above a lounge area. It looked nice, but was not very functional. The stairs were precarious – fortunately I did not need the loo in the middle of the night – I would be amazed if previous guests have not injured themselves. The desk was situated so close to the stairs that I could not pull the chair out properly to sit behind it. I ended up sitting at an angle. Additionally, the plug sockets by my bed did not work and one set of curtain blinds were broken. When you add in the fact that breakfast was not included in the already high price of my room, my excitement and anticipation had ended in disappointment. Once again, the result is that I will be finding alternative accommodation the next time I visit Copenhagen.

The Admiral Hotel Copenhagen - looks nice, but beware the stairs!
The Admiral Hotel Copenhagen – looks nice, but beware the stairs!

The moral of all of these stories is simple. If you fail to meet the expectation(s) of your customers you risk never seeing them again. If you set an expectation that is high – you need to be able to live up to your promises. Luxury hotels like Claridges have the authority to use the word luxury because they excel at delivering experiences to their customers that address every minute attention to detail. Their customers would expect no less. This principle is exactly the same for any brand – luxury or not.

So if you want to assess what the expectation of your customer experience is, consider your own personal levels of anticipation and excitement when interacting with a company. How do you feel when you order a new pair of shoes online?; or a new smartphone?; or presents for the kids?; how do you feel if what you receive is not quite what you expected – either the product or the service? Failure to meet customer expectation can be fatal.

Ryanair – the brand we can now learn to love

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I have always described Ryanair as ‘the brand we love to hate’. Famed for its ‘no frills’ approach, for years, millions of consumers decided that despite the appealing cost, the un-acceptability of the Ryanair experience was a big turn off. Equally as many millions of consumers were prepared to put up with the ‘no service’ proposition and until recently, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary revelled in the financial returns that this strategy delivered.

Michael O’Leary became as famous for his ability to deliver remarkably positive financial returns for his company, as he did for his public disdain for the customer. These are just some of the things he has said about customers in the past:

“If drink sales are falling off, we get the pilots to engineer a bit of turbulence. That usually spikes sales.”

On passengers who forget to print their boarding passes: “We think they should pay €60 for being so stupid.”

“Anyone who thinks Ryanair flights are some sort of bastion of sanctity where you can contemplate your navel is wrong. We already bombard you with as many in-flight announcements and trolleys as we can. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things.”

“MBA students come out with: ‘My staff is my most important asset.’ Bullshit. Staff is usually your biggest cost. We all employ some lazy bastards who needs a kick up the backside, but no one can bring themselves to admit it.”

If you can believe it, there are even worse examples than this with even fruitier language. The reason why the airline became the one that most loved to hate is not very difficult to understand. However, as a passionate defender of all things Customer Experience, I am about to write a sentence that I NEVER in a million years imagined I ever would…… brace yourselves…..

Michael O’Leary is the new HERO of Customer Experience!

Whilst I will never accept or codone the things Mr O’Leary has said and done in the past when it comes to his customers, I am absolutely accepting of a leader who is prepared to admit he is in the wrong. Too many business leaders do not have the humility to admit failure – those that do should be commended for having the balls to do so. Michael O’Leary has become one of those leaders.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, let me share with you this ‘up to date’ quote of Michael O’Leary’s following their latest round of financial results:

‘If I had known being nicer to our customers was going to work so well I would have done it years ago.’

Do not adjust your screens – you did just read that correctly. Michael O’Leary has finally acknowledged that improving the customer experience has had a POSITIVE effect on the financial performance of his business. He has admitted that he was wrong not to change the way the airline treated customers much sooner and is committed to making the Ryanair Customer Experience even better.

If I were any other airline in the industry, I would be very afraid. Ryanair’s co-founder, the late Tony Ryan, was desperate to make Ryanair the best-loved airline in Europe. Michael O’Leary vehemently disagreed with him and insisted that they should focus on being the lowest cost. They were actually both on to something – creating Europe’s lowest cost AND most loved airline  would be quite some proposition. This is now the proposition that Michael O’Leary is trying to fulfil.

Customer Experience Professionals all over the world are often challenged by business leaders as to the real benefits of Customer Experience. We are challenged with talking about ‘fluff’ rather than substance. Does it really make a difference? Well if you do not believe me, then speak to the new Customer Experience HERO – Michael O’Leary. For the greatest customer experience sceptic on earth to ‘see the light’, there is no better way of demonstrating to any business the potential reward for putting customers on the strategic map.

Over the last few weeks, since Michael O’Leary shared his epiphany with the world, I have discussed his new conclusions about the benefits of Customer Experience with many people. A significant proportion of those people have suggested they will now give Ryanair ‘another chance’. Improving the Customer Experience really does work. Ryanair could become the ‘brand we can now learn to love’. There is still a lot of work for them to do – to continue to improve the full ‘end to end’ experience, whilst convincing us that he will maintain and sustain his focus on Customer Experience indefinitely.

I for one am very grateful. Grateful for his admission. Grateful to have an amazing advocate of the financial benefits of improving Customer Experience. Grateful for any past, present or future customer of Ryanair. Long may we hear the Ryanair ‘trumpet’!


What is wrong with Virgin Media? a story of pain, frustration and dreadful Customer Experience

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If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will be aware that I am regularly referred to stories of both great and not so great Customer Experiences. As I am a big believer in the use of stories to bring Customer Experience to life, I feel that I am very fortunate to be allowed to share some of these stories with a wide audience.

This week I have been given permission to share a story of the ‘not so great’ variety. Over recent months, I have been increasingly made aware of customer dissatisfaction with Virgin Media. At least a dozen unconnected people have been only too eager to talk to me about their tales of woe with the company. In recent years, Virgin Media have actually been a Customer Experience ‘stalwart’ – I know a number of the team who developed one of the most robust Customer Experience programmes in the UK. Sadly they all departed soon after Virgin Media’s takeover by US based Liberty Global.

Until now, I have not felt compelled to write a blog post about the stories I have heard. This changed when I was directed to a story you will shortly read. The fact that the story is about a doctor is not really the point – this experience is being replicated with customers of all professions. However the story does highlight the frustration, anger and pain that Virgin Media is causing customers on a daily basis. What makes it even more annoying is the fact that the issues experienced in this story and others are all about the execution of the Customer Experience – not the quality of the product. I talk a lot about the move from being product centric to customer centric – if you want to know what being customer centric is all about, this story demonstrates what it is to NOT be customer centric…

Dear Virgin Media,
I am disappointed at your lack of common decency to your customers. I have taken the afternoon off work so that your engineer can unplug my current virgin box and plug in a new one. It is now 18:15 and no-one has turned up. I called customer service at 17:00 and they said they would look into it and call me back in 10 minutes, I haven’t received a call.
I partly blame myself for falling for your pressured upgrade calls but I just wanted you to stop calling as after no less than 10 calls I gave in. The caller who I eventually answered was very nice and offered me a special package as I had been with Virgin for 5 years and was a loyal customer paying over the odds. I hadn’t upgraded as I was happy with how things were. Anyway, I fell for the sale and accepted the ‘special offer’. Straight after ending the call I went online to your website to see that new members could get the same package but would pay £60 less – do you think I am a mug? I think that this is frankly disgusting and misleading behaviour! Anyway, after calling someone back and holding, I managed to get the package reduced to that of a new customer (aren’t I lucky!) and duly booked the time off work for the change of box.
I work hard as a GP seeing people who are sick every day. It is no small thing to take time off work, it costs me money, it costs the NHS money, but I had no option as you only offer 9-1 or 1-5. Anyway, I opted for the latter and missed seeing minimum 18 sick patients this afternoon. As it turns out, I could have seen them because your engineer has not turned up. Not only have I not received a call or an apology, I will most likely have to take more time off work at some point to try again, likely after I have spent money calling you to explain your error. I feel you not only owe me an apology but my patients an apology. I appreciate that things go wrong and people get delayed, but if I have patients who need to be seen, who are booked in, I don’t just clock off and not let them know!
I’m stuck really with what to do now, I like the fast service your broadband service offers but hate the way you treat your customers, it’s a catch-22 which I why I have tried to avoid communicating with you at all over the years and avoided upgrades. Anyway, writing this on Facebook has been cathartic and maybe others reading this and empathising with me make me feel a little better.
Just for info, if I ran a service where I told a customer they could see me at any time either in the morning or the afternoon but there was also a chance I was not going to see them, but I wouldn’t tell them that, then it would be all over the Daily Mail the following morning, just saying!

Every time I read the story I find myself shaking my head – I have never worked for Virgin Media but feel deeply embarrassed for them. There are so many customer journey failures in this story that it is difficult to know where to start summarising them – it is ‘Virgin on the ridiculous!’. Understanding how capable your business is of delivering the customer journey is absolutely imperative – that is if you are aware that you have a customer journey in the first place. Continuously improving your ability to deliver the customer journey should be the at the heart of any Customer Experience related activity.

I hope that senior leaders from Virgin Media and Liberty Global read this – the sustainability of their business (like all businesses) is dependant on being able to consistently meet (and sometimes exceed) customer expectation. Unless they systematically address complete Customer Experience failures like this one, I almost hope that they are not able to sustain themselves.

If you have experienced a problem with Virgin Media in recent months, please feel free to share your story by commenting on this post.

A circle unending complete and unbroken: the Customer Experience ‘wedding ring’

0 wedding ring

At the weekend I was honoured to witness the wedding of a very dear friend of mine. It was a quite wonderful occasion from beginning to end. Those of us who have had the pleasure of attending a wedding (whether it be our own, or of others) have all seen the traditional exchange of wedding rings. It was not until Saturday that I considered how the wedding ring can act as the analogy between the coming together of two people in marriage and the coming together of a customer and business.

Now I know some might snigger at this concept – for a variety of reasons!! Firstly, the fact that I can be thinking of a potential blog post during a wedding ceremony. As other bloggers I am sure will testify, there is no rhyme or reason for how a blog idea comes about! Secondly, how can I possibly compare marriage between two people who love each other and the commercial relationship between a customer and a business?! Let me try to explain.

Just before the wedding rings were exchanged, one of the guests was asked to come to the altar to read a poem about the significance of the wedding ring. I cannot remember the whole poem, but do clearly recall the opening lines. They were as follows:

Of all the traditions that true love may bring,
The most cherished custom passed down
Is the ring……

A circle unending, complete and unbroken,
Exchanged in the moment love’s promise is spoken.

Focus on the second paragraph – ‘a circle unending, complete and unbroken’ – before I heard these words, it had never dawned on my how the wedding ring (or any ring for that matter) is the perfect analogy for how we would like relationships between ourselves and our customers to be – a relationship that is like a circle…..never ending and continuous. You cannot tell where the relationship starts and ends because it in itself is endless.

Even while I write this I am slightly concerned that I am venturing into the ‘too deep’ category of blog post. However, the principle of the unbroken ring does seem to make so much sense to me. For years I have created visualisations of the customer journey as a circle – a continuous circle that should never end. This is not deep, it is a reality that businesses should aspire to have.

I always remember having a discussion with colleagues in my role as Head of Group Customer Experience a few years ago. The business at the time considered customers who had not placed an order for a certain length of time to ‘no longer be customers’. This would mean that their ‘status’ as customers would change, ultimately meaning that they would receive less marketing collateral than an ‘existing’ customer. However, when reviewing feedback from ‘real’ customers, it was clear that some customers could go for long periods of time without placing an order – but it did not mean that in their mind they were no longer a customer! They could be forgiven for feeling like they had been divorced without their other half telling them!!

When a customer chooses to commence a relationship with a business, the business should consider the first interaction to be the start of a long, prosperous, relational journey – not just a one off transaction. The journey will not go completely smoothly – things will go wrong, but the strength of the relationship should see both customer and business working together to resolve issues as they occur. It is also important to keep the relationship fresh – continually improving and innovating to meet the changing needs of the customer.

It is quite clear to me, the more you consider the customer relationship alongside marriage that there are many similarities between them!! The best marriages last for decades – but so do the best customer/business relationships. It is only when things go beyond the point of no return that a marriage comes to an end. That is no different from a customer relationship. I am delighted to say that whilst my marriage is still intact (just!!), my relationship with a number of companies who deliver experiences that have failed to meet my expectation have fallen by the wayside.

So how complete and unbroken is the customer journey that your customers are currently experiencing? Are there gaps in the circle of your journey where customers can and do drop out? If we want to have sustainable and growing businesses, we need to ensure that our customer relationships have the ability to become endless – that the journey remains unbroken for years. The most customer centric businesses will last as long (if not longer) than many marriages!!