Shopper Centricity: re-designing the high street store customer experience


Shooper centricity

This is not the first time I have written about bricks and mortar retail stores. The British high street has been under significant pressure for many years now – I have documented its demise since I started writing three years ago – you can read my opinions in the following posts:

There are many factors that are contributing to the steady increase in the closure of bricks and mortar stores every year. Only yesterday (16th March 2015) the BBC reported that ‘Shops desert High Street at faster rate in 2014’ – almost three times the number of stores closed down in 2014 compared to 2013. The demise of the high street is showing no sign of abating. The BBC article which reported the findings of research commissioned by PwC included the following quote from Mark Hudson, retail lead at PwC:

“Customers are embracing new mobile technologies, traditional retail channels to market are being wiped out and new channels are being created, often in the online rather than the ‘real’ world,”

It is difficult to disagree – it is also difficult to deny that this has been the case for many years now – in fact the online revolution has been in full swing since the mid noughties! That being the case, why is it that the experience that consumers have on the high street still ‘feels’ exactly the same as it did in the mid eighties?!!!

In 2015, shopping in a bricks and mortar store is like walking back in to a bygone age. Despite the introduction of a vast array of new technology, it is remarkably rare to see any of the technology we use in our daily lives even being present in the high street store. There are exceptions of course – the Apple store was among the first to change the concept of a physical high street experience – well-informed and knowledgeable staff seamlessly integrating with beautiful technology, using their own products to conduct purchases. I am not personally a user of Apple products, but have always been a fan of the Apple store concept.

The experience of shopping in the high street is often not one that consumers relish in the modern world. From cramped and confusing store layouts, to unhelpful, uninformed staff, to a lack of integration with online offerings. I find shopping in certain stores a real chore – even though I sometimes feel that the brands responsible for the store play a vital role in our high street. It is the nature of the store environment makes for a not very enjoyable shopping experience. Just think of the brands on our high streets who appear to offer a completely different layout in every store. It is like an episode of the Krypton Factor (for these of you who can remember) trying to find the things you need. Surely the experience could be better?

What about the stores that you know even before you have arrived that you are going to have to find a member of staff to show you where the things you need are located. It is annoying, time-consuming and not very enjoyable. It is no wonder that we prefer to sit at home and conduct our shopping in front of a plethora of different size digital screens.

In my opinion, the reason why the ‘bricks and mortar’ shopping experience feels like it has for decades is that the experience we still have as consumers is one that was conceived and designed decades ago – very few retailers have considered how they need to REDESIGN the shopping experience to meet the needs of the shopper in 2015. Even fewer (if any at all) have thought about the changing needs of the consumer in the future. Ultimately, the shopping experience today is NOT ‘shopper centric’ – for the high street to find its purpose again, I urge retailers to consider the need to drive ‘shopper centricity’.

So what do I mean by ‘shopper centricity’? I do not think it is rocket science to consider how to redesign the shopping experience to better fit in to the life of the modern consumer. Being shopper centric means that your store puts the shopper at the ‘heart’ of everything it does. It means that your store is designed to be functional – it allows the shopper to do what she needs to do. It needs to be designed to be as accessible as possible – it enables her to do what she wants in a store as easily as possible. It needs to be designed to leave her feeling as though she has actually had an experience – one that she will remember…… and for the right reasons. To achieve all of these things, retailers need to recognise that technology and channels can/should/must start to integrate seamlessly so the consumer is able to achieve everything they want.

facebook hangers

A retailer in Brazil a few years ago introduced clothes hangers linked to Facebook. The hangers display the number of likes related to the product that adorns it. What a brilliant idea – an idea that I am yet to see in the UK. It is a simple yet powerful example of linking technology and channels together. Walking into a bricks and mortar store CAN feel like the online experience (and vice versa).

In 2013 I delivered a presentation on customer experience to a telecoms business, Pennine Telecom and some of its clients. One of the companies at the presentation was Motorola Technologies. They were developing some amazing things that could transform the experience for companies and customers across a number of industries. They showed me their ‘electronic badge’ technology – see the image below. This replaces current plastic badges that you ‘swipe’ to get in and out of buildings, and that show your name, picture etc.. The badges enable businesses to know where their employees are at any time, delivering real-time tasks. They are looking at getting them into hospitals (replacing pagers), and retailers. Think how the experience could be improved if an employee had an electronic badge to advise you where a product was in the store. Even better – what if the store was enabled with touchscreens that consumers could use themselves to find an item….. or to order it online if not available?

motorola

This technology already exists…..yet it is still not present in the experience we have in most bricks and mortar stores. Then we come to mobile. The technology that the majority of consumers use as almost an extension of their physical form! We eat, sleep, run, play, work and SHOP with the things – yet they are still largely not integrated into the physical shopping experience. Mobile technology is a huge opportunity for retailers to radically redesign the shopping experience. The question is who will e the first to do it effectively?

I envisage a world where mobile technology helps the consumer to CHOOSE how they want to shop – rather than the retailer defining how the MUST shop. Imagine this scenario:

  • I need to buy an item of clothing for a party tonight – I need it quickly
  • My mobile tells me where I can find the item (in stock)
  • My mobile tells me independent customer reviews of the item
  • My mobile tells me my transport options to get there and where to park (free and paid)
  • My mobile informs me of payment options
  • On entering the store, my mobile and he store ‘connect’ with each other
  • My mobile tells me where the item is in the store
  • My mobile suggests other items that could complement my purchase
  • I leave the store and my mobile automatically pays for the items in my possession
  • Depending on the time of day, my mobile tells me where I can grab a bite to eat close to store

Madness? Feasible? An experience that would leave you feeling positive – emotionally? Whether this type of scenario is for you or not, we must recognise that the days of the existing high street store experience are numbered. Until or unless retailers recognise that they must redesign the experience to make better use of the technology that their customers are already using, the media will continue to report ever-increasing numbers of shop closures. We must put the shopper back at the heart of the shopping experience again – and design an experience that genuinely is Shopper Centric!

The epic failings of Emirates: are brands really trying hard enough when it comes to Customer Experience?


Emirates Epic Failures

As someone who spends his life eating, talking, breathing, writing and generally  living everything to do with Customer Experience, it is inevitable that on occasion I may get tagged as a serial ‘moaner’. It is true to say that I often highlight the less than palatable experiences I encounter. However, I am just as quick to champion exceptional experiences as I am to expose those at the other end of the spectrum.

At the end of the day, the reason I regularly write about experiences of my own is to bring to life the reality that the Customer Experience has on customers, employees and shareholders. The best way to bring to life the consequences of not being customer focused is to share real life stories. In this post I am compelled to share with you the epic failures of one of the world’s ‘leading’ airlines. Whether you still consider them to be ‘leading’ having read this is up to you.

Emirates has built up a very good reputation over the last ten years. They are very quick to promote their approach to Customer Experience online – in fact, these are two of the claims/promises made on their website:

  • The Emirates Experience – Comfort and attention to detail you can rely on every time you travel
  • The Emirates Experience puts you first

I have flown with Emirates on numerous occasions – all of which have been in economy class. Whilst I have found the experience to be acceptable, it falls short (in my opinion) of its major rival Etihad – you can read my comparison between the two airlines here. It was therefore with great anticipation that I learned I was to be able to make a comparison between Emirates and Etihad once more. In February 2015, I was to fly from Manchester to Chennai in India on Emirates and fly back to Manchester from Hyderabad with Etihad – the entire journey was to be in business class. As I sit writing this blog post in Chennai, I have only experienced the Emirates flights – my experience was so unexpected, I have decided to write about it before flying back with Etihad.

In business class you are treated to a wholly different Experience to that in economy. From the free chauffeur service; to dedicated check in desks; to exclusive lounges. The cost of a business class ticket is not insubstantial, but the benefits do seem almost worth it. My journey to Chennai started well. the morning before my flight I received a telephone call from Emirates. They wanted to confirm the details for my chauffeur pick up the following morning. I was impressed.

At 05:45 the next day, as promised, the chauffeur arrived outside my front door. The lovely man delivered me as close to the check in desk as I could have asked. Check in was a breeze and before I knew it I was seated in the luxurious Emirates lounge in Manchester Terminal  1. When I arrived at the lounge, I was advised that my flight to Dubai was delayed. Little did I know at that point the consequences the delay would have on my trip.

We boarded the plane around 45 minutes late. I was slightly nervous that my onward connection to Chennai once arriving in Dubai would be perilously tight. None of the cabin crew seemed concerned, so I settled back to enjoy the flight in the considerable comfort of business class. We landed in Dubai at 20:15 – exactly the time that my flight to Chennai was scheduled to be boarding. Still none of the cabin crew suggested I might have a problem.

On leaving the plane, I was greeted by a member of Emirates ground crew. The lady advised me that we would have to transfer to my Chennai flight as quickly as possible. She advised that it would not be possible to transfer my bag in time – I was given the option to wait for the later flight, or travel onwards without my bag.

You may be reading this thinking: ‘what is the problem with that?’ In principle you are right – no airline can completely eliminate delays – yet they can work hard to ensure that customers are treated well and fairly if they are subjected to one. The later flight would have seen me arrive in Chennai too late – too late to start the delivery of a workshop for my client. Leaving on the later flight was therefore not an option. However, the materials I use for my workshops were in my bag – the bag they were advising could not be transferred to my Chennai flight.

It took about 30 minutes to get from my Manchester flight to the Chennai flight. Once I had boarded the plane, it did not move for at least 30 minutes. Why 60 minutes was not enough time to transfer my bag is not clear – I personally think that Emirates did not try hard enough to complete the task – they could have got it on that flight if they had really wanted to. I asked the ground crew in Dubai to ensure that their counterparts in Dubai knew what was going on. I wanted to ensure that not only could someone help me with my delayed bag, but that they would also ensure that the chauffeur scheduled to take me to my hotel in Chennai would wait for me.

When I arrived in Chennai, I was pointed in the direction of ground crew – they were not Emirates staff. They did not treat me any differently to any other passenger arriving in Chennai – they made me wait until almost all the passengers had disembarked the aircraft. I was eventually  led to a counter in the baggage hall. I completed numerous forms – all hand written. I was assured that my bag would arrive on the later flight into Chennai and that Emirates would deliver the bag to my hotel. The entire process did not fill me with any confidence whatsoever. However my lack of confidence was soon to turn to despair and anger.

Firstly, I was offered no apology – by anyone – Emirates or otherwise, for the fact that my bag was not transferred. It was not my fault that one of the flights was delayed. It was not my fault that the gap between the two flights was so insufficient for them to transfer the bag. More importantly I was also offered nothing to help me in my current state – I had been travelling for 13 hours wearing the clothes I stood in. I had no change of clothes and no toiletries. It was 2:45 in the morning and I had four hours before a car was picking me up from my hotel to take me to my client. It would have been nice to be given a toothbrush if nothing else! Remember – this is the airline that claims the following

  • The Emirates Experience puts you first

I did not think it could get any worse – but it did. Epic fail number two occurred when I departed the terminal. Not only is it very unclear as to where to go to pick up your scheduled chauffeur at Chennai airport, when I did eventually find the location, there was no-one there to greet me. Not a soul. It was now 3:00 am. I was tired, sweaty and very angry. To make matters even worse, I had no idea what to do about it. If you have not been to Chennai airport before, I must point out that it is not a great place to be in the dead of night. The only people who would talk to me were taxi drivers trying to harass me into their cars – they are very unpleasant. A taxi was not an option anyway as I had no cash and there were no ATM machines with any cash in them for me to access.

There was not a single Emirates member of staff to be found – anywhere – inside or outside of the terminal building. To cut a long story short, I spent a thoroughly unpleasant TWO HOURS trying to find someone to help me. At the two-hour mark, a man in casual clothes suddenly appeared asking me if I was the man looking for the Emirates chauffeur. I did not know whether to hug him or throttle him!! Once again, no apology, no explanation – my flight arrived in Chennai at 2:15 in the morning. I finally arrived at my hotel 16km away at 05:00. I managed just under 90 minutes sleep before I had to get in the taxi to my client. Remember this debacle was caused by the airline who claims the following:

  • The Emirates Experience – Comfort and attention to detail you can rely on every time you travel

I finally received my bag at 3pm  the following afternoon. I had to deliver the first day of my workshop wearing the clothes I had traveled in for over 13 hours – clothes intended for the British winter – not the Indian east coast. I had to improvise with the materials I used. On receiving my bag back (which my client had to retrieve from the hotel – Emirates would only deliver it there), I reflected on the entire experience.

Reunited with my bag!
Reunited with my bag!

Emirates had failed me ‘epically’. A large sum of money had been paid for me to travel with them in business class – what they delivered was so far from ‘putting me first’ that it has left a very sour taste in my mouth. I want an apology from Emirates. However, more than an apology, I want them to acknowledge that they understand the consequences their actions (or non actions) have on customers. What does it feel like arriving at your location without your luggage? What does it feel like to arrive in a new country with the person scheduled to meet you not being there? What does it feel like to have no-one from your brand being present to help a customer in need? If Emirates understood the consequences, they would be actively working to improve the customer journey – a journey that right now is inadequate. Emirates would also be working very hard to recover the situation – two days after the event, I am still waiting to hear from them.

I have had it with Emirates. I will not be flying with them again. I have other options I can replace them with. I will also ensure that many people hear about my experience with them. Not only are they likely to fail their customers, they DO NOT TRY HARD ENOUGH when it comes to Customer Experience – saying it on their website is not enough.


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

The Elms Hotel – Customer Experience Review


CX Review - The Elms

Anyone who is lucky enough to have a family with three or more children will be able to empathise with the age old problem of booking hotel accommodation. As the average family size in the UK has continued to rise (1 in 7 families with children in the UK have three or more children), the majority of hotels have steadfastly refused to budge from their belief that two adults come with two children! Every year the Golding family (with our three children) struggle finding both summer and winter accommodation in hotels  – sometimes reduced to ‘smuggling’ one of them into our hotel room, we regularly feel that the travel sector really does not do enough to accommodate larger families.

Travelling with children is tough enough as it is – if you can get past the booking challenges, you then need to determine if the hotel will have everything that little people need. Amazingly, there is less choice than you might imagine. 9 years ago, I took Naomi and our first daughter (Ciara, who was not even two at the time) to a hotel called  The Ickworth – owned by  Luxury Family Hotels, not only had we found an idyllic location to take a break in the Suffolk countryside, we had also found a proposition that catered for everything a family could desire. This review focuses on another of the groups hotels – The Elms Hotel and Spa in Worcestershire. In 2013 we decided to stay at the Elms for Christmas. Having enjoyed ourselves so much, we decided to go back a second time – on this occasion for three nights from the 26th to the 29th December.

The review you are about to read is one that is written in the spirit of all of my reviews – with as open and honest a perspective as possible. The review is based on my own methodology and scoring mechanism and is obviously my opinion – you are completely free to disagree with me!! My intention is to allow anyone who reads it to understand what makes or breaks a good customer experience and to enable those being written about to learn from my expertise as a customer experience specialist. Let the review commence!

Date Review Conducted 26th to 28th December 2014
Hotel Experienced The Elms Hotel & Spa, Stockton Road, Abberley, Worcester, WR6 6AT
CX Review Total Score 32/50
Stars Awarded 3/5

Luxury Family Hotels group of 8 beautiful residences around the UK are a young families dream. Designed to offer fabulous accommodation in idyllic surroundings whilst giving both children and adults everything they could desire,  their proposition is almost too good to be true! Every mum and dad with young children craves relaxation – what better way to do it than in a luxury environment whilst the kids are having fun.

Luxury Family Hotels describe their proposition very well on their website :

Our country house hotels are stylish and sumptuous, yet we welcome the thunder of little feet – and paws too. Babies and young children will love our Ofsted-registered crèches, while older children can make friends in the games room, try outdoor activities, or watch Blockbusters in the cinema room.

Being experts in luxury family breaks, we put family time at the core of your holiday: Make a splash with the kids in the pool, enjoy leisurely family meals, and explore our grand estates and their surroundings. But rest assured there’s plenty of scope for grown-up time too. We offer a complimentary crèche and baby-listening service (or babysitter, if you’d prefer), so you can relax under the spell of a spa treatment, don glad rags for a candlelit dinner, or simply take a walk or some time to yourself.

Our staff will immediately make you feel at home, and are always on hand to give you an insider’s guide to the local area. And to make packing easy, we’ll be in touch to ensure your room is kitted out with everything you need, from cots and sterilsers to toddler steps and bed guards.

Sounds great doesn’t it? The question is, does the experience live up to the proposition. In 2013, when the Goldings (with Naomi’s parents in tow) turned up at the Elms for the first time for Christmas, it certainly did. Luxury, relaxation, happy children, full and satisfied belly’s – there was little to fault it. So when we decided to take another winter break (this time from boxing day), we immediately decided that the Elms would be for us again. The returning customer is exactly what all business crave. The ability to deliver a consistently good experience is the challenge. Were the Elms able to live up to the 2013 experience – read on to find out…..

The Elms

Accessibility – CX Review Score 8/10

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 the Elms 8 out of 10 for this category. This is a pretty good score, largely driven by the Elms experience having a significant number of plus points. Not only is booking the accommodation easy, the hotel is as accommodating as you would expect it to be in dealing with a family of five plus a dog! Yes that’s right – not only is this hotel able to cater for the needs of families of all shapes and sizes, it is also able to cater for creatures with four legs. We were given the same rooms as we were in 2013 – two separate rooms parted by a small corridor – the set up was perfect. Dog bowls were waiting for Rosie, and the the kids bedroom set up exactly as we expected for the three little people. All great so far.

Whilst our rooms were housed in separate building (only 30 seconds away), my in laws were booked in to a room in the main house. As we entered their room, things started to take a turn for the worse. It was rather cold on Boxing Day – a fact not lost on my in laws who recognised immediately that the radiator in their room was not working. Additionally, the curtains had been pulled away from the runner and would not close. On inspecting the bathroom, my mother in law realised that whilst the roll top bath might look nice, it was going to be extremely difficult for her to get in to it to have a shower. To say that they were not impressed with their ‘lot’ would be an understatement. The problems identified may sound like little things, but when you are paying a significant amount of money to stay in a hotel like the Elms, you expect basics (such as working radiators) to be operational. Within ten minutes of arriving at the Elms, we found ourselves back at reception asking for help. Issues with ‘the basics’ continued in our rooms. A total of three lamps  contained light bulbs that did not work – again, something that we all take for granted in a hotel, but a basic detail that had been overlooked.

The Elms has wonderfully cosy lounges to relax in – perfect on a freezing cold winters day. Two of the lounges benefit from roaring log fires – we could not wait to settle in front of one and put our feet up ahead of dinner. It was with a real sense of disappointment that we found the fire in one of the lounges to be unmade. The staff showed no willing to set it up and light it. Whether a lack of staff of boxing day was the cause I am not sure. All I know is that we did not quite get the cosy rest we expected.

On the 27th December, The Elms hosted a children’s birthday party. A function room and one of the lounges was blocked off for the event. Additionally, a large space in another lounge was reserved for another party of guests not staying in the hotel. The result is that there was very little space for paying residents to sit in the communal areas of the hotel. We wanted to have some lunch after a delightful winters walk to Abberley clock tower – it was a struggle finding anywhere to sit – we then had a lengthy wait to be served as all the staff were attending to the party. We had a genuine feeling that we had become ‘less important’ to the hotel  – not a great emotion for guests to have.

Despite these issues, the Elms (in general) does work very well as a hotel to relax with family. The best way to describe it is that the Elms is a ‘home from home’ for children and adults. Kids are free to roam around the hotel in a safe environment without fear of groans and moans from non child loving guests. A brilliant creche and play room provide plenty of stimulus to keep little people amused. An outdoor play area complete with trampoline sits in beautiful gardens – a space that would have been used more if it had not been so cold and wet!

The spa is also fantastic. A lovely heated swimming pool is complimented by a large Jacuzzi pool that sits half inside the building and half outside. Our children would have spent all day every day in the pool without any problem. Naomi and I had a treatment during our stay – the service was excellent. However, the spa showed further evidence of the lack of attention to detail., Both mens and womens changing rooms have seen better days – locks not working on lockers, unclean and stained showers. It almost felt as though has been an absence of tender loving care  in the twelve months since we last stayed there.

To highlight yet further the lack of attention to detail, I want to share with you the daily newsletter that sat on our table at breakfast every morning. A lovely idea for both children and parents. However, please note both the date of the newsletter (the 29th December) and the article in the bottom right hand corner – about an event that finished on Christmas Eve! This article remained firmly in place in all three newsletters we were given during our stay which started on Boxing Day. If someone at the Elms was paying attention, their newsletter would at least be up to date!

The Elms Newsletter

So it is with mixed feelings that I awarded a score of 8 out of 10 for the accessibility category – mixed because in normal circumstances, with the number of issues we encountered, I would have awarded a lower score. However, the brilliance of the proposition of this hotel in making a holiday EASY for children and adults alike has ultimately won me over!

Range/Choice – CX Review Score 7/10

When it comes to Range and Choice, I have awarded the Elms 7 out of 10. The hotel does very well in terms of its ability to offer a huge amount of choice for families in determining how to plan and manage their time there. From room configuration, to facilities to amenities, there is almost anything to suit the needs of anyone! Even dinner was full of choices – the choice to eat as a family, or for the kids to eat earlier and for the adults to enjoy a child free dinner after they had gone to bed (all made possible through the hotel’s ‘baby listening’ service). There is also the option for your children to be looked after early in the morning so mum and dad can have a lie in – fabulous! We observed a number of parents enjoying a quiet child free breakfast before their little ones were returned to them later in the morning.

So why have I only awarded a 7 for this category? When reviewing an end to end experience, I consider range and choice from a number of angles. In this instance, we were staying with the Elms on a ‘dinner, bed and breakfast’ basis. When you commit to something like this, you expect the range and choice of food on offer to be acceptable. We actually had the choice of two types of menu – there was plenty to choose from. However (sadly I have to use that word), although there were options, the Elms were unable to satisfy all of them. For the three nights we dined at the Elms, the steak was not available. On Boxing Day, the hotel could not make a banana split – they had run out of bananas!! My mother in law is a Coeliac (an allergy to Gluten) –  a point we had made clear when booking the holiday. Unfortunately, on our first night, the staff were completely unable to understand the fact that she needed to know what she could eat and could not eat. We had to ask repeatedly for help and for a menu to be marked up by the kitchen staff – it was not a pleasant experience. This was addressed by the second evening – but it should have been sorted from day 1. Additionally, as a customer, I do not care what day it is – I expect a restaurant to have the food it displays on its menu!

People – CX Review Score 7/10

I have awarded a score of 7 out of 10 for the Elms people. I must make it clear that the Elms staff are extremely nice. They are accommodating to children, adults and animals! However, just being nice is not enough to deliver consistently good customer experiences. On our first day (Boxing Day), we were served by staff who whilst being nice, were inefficient, unknowledgeable and actually quite unhelpful. We had to wait twenty minutes for a cup of tea to be delivered to us in the lounge for example. I have already covered the dinner debacle – the lack of understanding and knowledge of the staff made my mother in law feel very uncomfortable. When we asked our waitress about wine, she was unable to answer our questions – she did not look for help either (maybe there was no-one available to ask). It almost felt as though they were understaffed with a number of untrained staff – this was wildly different to our experience a year earlier.

At certain points, one member of staff was visibly ‘stressed’, clearly under pressure and as a result pretty aloof when serving customers. By our third night, all of this had changed. Members of staff we recognised from the year before had reappeared.  The Food and Beverage Manager served us our last meal – he was excellent – it was just a shame he was not present to observe service the previous two nights. In fact I would argue that there was a visible lack of presence of management throughout our first two days at the Elms – I do not recall seeing the General Manager during our whole stay. At one of the busiest times of year, you would expect a hotel to be fully staffed from the top down. I felt as though we were short changed – especially on Boxing Day. If the Elms want to offer a sub standard service on Boxing Day, they should reduce the price to reflect that fact.

All that being said, it is important to point out that that the Elms staff are very nice people. By our third day we finally felt as though we were being looked after. It is this fact that has prevented me from awarding a lower score.

Value – CX Review Score 5/10

The Elms is part of the Luxury Family Hotels group. When you see the word ‘luxury’, you automatically expect it to come at a price to match. It is therefore true to say that the Elms is not a cheap holiday option. It is a beautiful hotel in an idyllic location with amazing facilities. If you are prepared to pay for luxury, it is not unreasonable to expect the experience to match the price tag. That means at a very minimum the basics must be delivered. Luxury does not equal a non working radiator. Luxury does not equal broken light bulbs. Luxury does not equal a stale roll being used for a lunchtime sandwich. Luxury does not equal a customer having to constantly badger staff to find out what they are able to eat. All of these things were experienced by us in our stay at the Elms.

If any organisation fails to deliver on the basics (all of which these issues are), it is impossible to say that you have received good value for money. In many cases I would have awarded a lower score than the 5 out of 10 I have. However, despite the issues, we still felt rested after our three day stay – but we would have felt as though we had got much better value for money if the end to end experience actually matched the price tag.

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

As we drove away from the Elms on he 29th December, it was with real mixed emotions. We had enjoyed a lovely break away from normality. Someone else had done the cooking and cleaning for three days and nights. It was lovely being able to go for a swim every day and to walk Rosie in a beautiful environment. These should have been our parting memories. However, as described throughout this review, the EMOTIONAL component of our experience has been tainted by a number of basic FUNCTIONAL and ACCESSIBLE issues that ultimately left a sour taste in our mouths. When we complained about the stale roll used to make a lunchtime sandwich we had ordered, there was barely any acknowledgement of the problem. The whole experience has left us feeling that whilst the circumstances of the hotel are great, the inability of the Elms to deliver a consistently good experience left a stain on our three days there.

The point is that it is the issues we will remember – the emotional component of the experience is what all customers remember. The question is – do you want customers to have negative memories that will result in them never coming back?

Would I use them again? No

It is with regret that I can confidently say I will not be returning to the Elms in the future. I say ‘with regret’ because there are so few hotels that are able to offer the type of break that my family wants and needs. However, if I am going to part with my hard earned cash, I demand that the experience I am promised matches the price I have to pay. The Elms need to have a long hard look at the little details that are absolutely essential in delivering great experiences. Every day of the year is the same – as far as the customer is concerned. Whether it is Boxing Day, Easter Day or any old Tuesday, the price; the service; the experience needs to be the same and at its absolute best. That is not what we experienced in our time at the Elms.

As always, I hope the Elms and Luxury Family Hotel management teams are able to learn from this review. Ultimately the ability of any organisation to react positively to the opportunities offered with positive or negative feedback enables that organisation to continuously improve the experience for customers in the future.


My reviews are based on a format I created to assess experiences I have with a variety organisations. They are intended to act as a demonstration of how Customer Experiences affect the customer in a number of ways. The reviews are based on my opinion as a Customer Experience Specialist – an opinion that readers are perfectly welcome to disagree with!! I always welcome others perspectives and would love to know what you think of the companies I do review.

You can read all of my reviews here.

Falling out of love with John Lewis – even the best find it tough to deliver consistently good customer experiences


JL Falling

This is not the first time I have written about John Lewis. A British retailer recognised by many as the epitome of a people (customers and employees) focused brand, their challenge for a long time has been to maintain their position as a Customer Experience leader for others to look up to and admire.

Founded in 1864, the perception of John Lewis as a brand you can trust has been built over many years of hard work – hard work in adapting to the world around it and the ever changing needs of its customers. With its well know ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ slogan, the retailer will still pay you the difference if you can find an item you purchased from them cheaper elsewhere.

If you have turned your customers into loyal fans of your brand – if they have ‘fallen in love’ with your Customer Experience, it takes a lot of hard work to maintain that love – to maintain their ‘fandom’ and loyal custom. Even if something goes wrong, it is unlikely that your customer will fall out of love with you – especially if you are able to put it right quickly, efficiently and without too much effort.

John Lewis are by no means perfect – like all organisations, it is impossible to get things right 100% of the time, but in general they are well known for dealing with issues in a professional and consistent manner. However, in January 2015, John Lewis’s challenge seems to be getting ever tougher. The challenge for all businesses to maintain our undivided loyalty is becoming extremely difficult as we become ever more demanding. When you are a John Lewis, the expectation is remarkably high.

So the big question in this post is this – is it possible that the British consumer could ‘fall out of love’ with John Lewis? Could a brand with such a strong heritage and reputation lose its differentiation as a Customer Experience leader? In April last year I wrote a post that suggested the ‘omni channel Customer Experience’ is John Lewis’s greatest challenge of the moment. The story I shared demonstrated the risks John Lewis face in failing to connect the different customer channels in its business. The story I would like to share today highlights the significance of this  problem once again. Will this be the experience that sees me personally falling out of love with John Lewis?

On the 5th January 2015, I ordered a  ‘Luxury Memory Foam Mattress Bed Topper’ from John Lewis.com. I immediately received an email confirmation advising me that the item would be delivered ‘within 5 working days’ of me placing my order. I was very happy with this as the item was intended as a birthday present for Mrs Golding whose birthday was on the 13th January! Unusually for me, I was working ahead of time with a little leeway!

JL 1

Two days later I received another email. Entitled ‘Back Order Details’, things did not bode well. In fact I was actually quite astonished to open an email from John Lewis advising me that the item ordered was NOT available for delivery. The ‘call to action’ was for me, the customer, to make all of the effort and contact John Lewis by email or telephone to ‘cancel the order’!! Alternatively I could just wait for it to arrive, or have my order cancelled in 4 weeks.

JL 2

Sadly this type of ‘broken promise’ event is pretty common with online retailers – the problem is that I have higher expectations of John Lewis than I do of other retailers. I was NOT impressed. As I did not want to have to email or telephone, I reached out to Twitter to vent my frustration:

JL 3

A broken promise of delivery of a birthday present and the first suggestion from John Lewis on Twitter was for me, the customer, to contact my local store. I was starting to get a little hot under the collar now. This is really not what I expect from John Lewis. There was no other option but to pick up the phone and speak to them.

On the 9th January I called the John Lewis.com contact centre – more of my time, effort and cost in telephone calls. For the first time during the transaction, I spoke to someone who gave me faith that I was really dealing with John Lewis and not a bogus website! Zain, the contact centre agent, was excellent. Very apologetic, he did everything he could to understand what had happened and what he could do about it. I was impressed. Zain confirmed the weakness in John Lewis’s operating model. The online business did indeed not have any more of the item I had ordered in stock. The item was due into their warehouse on the 5th January but had not arrived yet. The online warehouse is NOT shared by the stores – they have their own separate stock pool. Zain had to put me on hold while he contacted the stores contact centre to see if they had any of the item available. Still with me?!

If you are confused, I will just clarify that John Lewis is not a joined up, connected, omni channel business. Its stores and online propositions might look the same, but they are separate and disparate. I was suffering as a result. The only solution Zain could come up with was to cancel my online order and reserve the item at my local John Lewis store in Chester. I then had to telephone my local Chester store to confirm my reservation. The whole experience was long winded and ridiculous. I had got to the point of almost no return!

The following day (10th January) I received a message from the Chester store advising that the item had come in to stock again – hurrah – three days before Naomi’s birthday – I could get them to send the item by next day delivery and still have it in time…………or NOT! When I called the store and suggested that they send it by next day delivery, I was advised that this was not an option. I could either have it delivered to home in five working days, or collect it from the store on the 13th January. The back story of the order was irrelevant – the fact that John Lewis were affecting my ability to get my wife her birthday present on time was not important – the computer said no (albeit very politely).

So 7 working days after I placed my online order; three phone calls and one drive to a store later, I arrived at John Lewis Chester to collect Naomi’s birthday present. Amazingly, no apology for the debacle was given by anyone I interacted with. Naomi was with me when we collected it – no-one even had the courtesy to wish her a happy birthday. To say I am unimpressed by the whole experience is an understatement.

The problem with bad experiences is that it only takes one for a customer to choose to fall out of love with a brand. There were so many failings in this experience from a retailer I once trusted implicitly that I have made the conscious decision NOT to use John Lewis online in the future. I will still visit their stores. I still believe that they have an excellent proposition and wonderful people. Yet until they join their channels together, I will shop elsewhere via the internet – this experience has left a sour taste in my mouth.

So is it possible for the consumer to fall out of love with John Lewis? You bet your life it is – they can and must not ever rest on their laurels.

Update – 15th January

Having read this post, I was contacted by John Lewis on Facebook and twitter. This morning I had a telephone conversation with a very nice lady from the customer service team. Not only did the lady acknowledge all of the issues in the experience (without excusing them), she confirmed that they would be addressing the issues with the relevant teams to mitigate the issues in the future. This is further demonstration as to why it is important for organisations to readily accept feedback like this and seize on the opportunity that comes from bad experiences. If good comes out of bad, I am always very happy with the outcome.


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

 

What happens if your company overreacts? Your customers exert unnecessary effort!


Overreaction

Last week I had the pleasure of writing a Customer Experience Review on low cost airline Norwegian. I intentionally say ‘the pleasure’ as I was pleasantly surprised by the experience – not a common feeling I have in my experiences with airlines.

I wrote the review after my outbound flight with them to Oslo. If I had written the review after my return flight to London Gatwick, the result may have been very different. Whilst the Norwegian ‘everything is working as it should do’ experience was surprisingly good, the ‘what do we do if something goes wrong’ experience was far less acceptable.

What happened to me and my fellow passengers on the afternoon of the 12th December 2014 serves as a brilliant example of how NOT to deal with an exceptional event – when something goes wrong. I would like to share the story with you.

I was due to fly from Oslo to Gatwick on the last Norwwegian flight of the day – the 18:10. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time and settled myself in a cafe near to the departure gate. I opened my laptop in anticipation of catching up on emails. I often have a quick check of the news – on this particular occasion it proved to be a useful move. I discovered at around 16:30 that there was a problem with the air traffic control systems in and around London.

My instant reaction was to check the departure boards in the terminal building. I wanted to know if London bound flights were going to be affected. The BA flight bound for London Heathrow was already showing a delay. My Gatwick flight was still unaffected. That was about to change…..

Flight cancelled

Just past 17:00, the departure screens showed that the London Gatwick flight with Norwegian had been cancelled! Cancelled! I was slightly shocked. No other London bound flight had been cancelled, but within thirty minutes of the problem being announced, Norwegian decided the flight could not depart. Now I must clarify some things here. The air traffic control issue was in no way connected to any airline. It was therefore not Norwegian’s fault. However, how Norwegian dealt with the issue is very much in their control and what happened next did not get anywhere near meeting my expectation.

Having seen the cancellation on the screen, I hunted out a Norwegian member of staff. I found a lady at a departure gate. She was not able to give me any information other than to ‘hang around and listen to the announcements’. At this stage I had no idea if I would be getting home for the weekend. As other confused passengers started to arrive at the gate, a different member of staff arrived and announced something in Norwegian. She had to be asked to repeat what she said in English.

We were told that due to the issues in London, the flight had been cancelled. We would need to return to arrivals, find the ticket desk and they would ‘sort things out for us’. That was it – no more, no less. So 15 minutes later, we were escorted back to the corridor leading back to passport control for arriving passengers. The airport in Oslo is extremely long – we had to traipse the entire length of it. Having got through passport control, the absence of any Norwegian members of staff was notable. Where were we supposed to go?

With no assistance at all, the group of passengers I was huddled with eventually found the ticket desk – already besieged by concerned passengers. Fortunately everyone was extremely calm – and patient. The fact that Norwegian had a ticketing system in place helped matters. I prepared myself for a long wait. Whilst waiting, no member of Norwegian staff came to speak to us. There is no seating anywhere near the ticket desk – it is really not a pleasant experience.

Another fifteen minutes later and the situation took yet another turn. A senior member of staff arrived behind the ticket desk and gestured to all waiting passengers. We moved in as close to the desks as possible. The lady made an announcement in Norwegian this was met by audible sighs and cheers from 50% of the passengers. The other 50% had to demand that she repeat her announcement in English.

Norwegian had decided to ‘un-cancel’ the flight – it would be leaving after all – at 19:30!! I have never heard of a flight being cancelled and then un-cancelled. My relief (at knowing I would get home) was replaced with intense frustration. This meant that all passengers would have to completely repeat the airport departure process – starting with airport security all over again. We burned a few calories on Friday night I can tell you.

The moral of this story is as per the title of this blog post. If a company overreacts to a problem, it is very likely to cause its customers unnecessary customer effort. When Norwegian cancelled the Gatwick flight on Friday afternoon, it did so far to quickly and readily. It was the last flight of the day – it would have done no harm delaying it until they were certain that the problems in London were going to be prolonged. In acting too soon, they created a bigger problem than was necessary.

Aside from the unnecessary physical effort exerted by passengers, we must not ignore the psychological effect the Norwegian overreaction had. Many of the passengers were returning home to friends and family. Cancelled flights do not just inconvenience, they also cause distress. Cancellations are an event that drive an emotional reaction in customers – it is therefore critical that the event is dealt with clearly and empathetically – in my opinion, Norwegian failed on both fronts.

If something goes wrong in your customer experience (which it inevitably will on occasion), it is vital to consider the following steps:

  1. Are you in possession of the full facts? Do not make any decisions until you are certain of the situation
  2. Keep your customers informed at all times – customers will understandably be anxious. To assure them that you are in control of the situation, provide them with information on a regular basis
  3. Cancel the product or service as a LAST RESORT – if at all possible, delay making the decision until there is no other option
  4. Provide customers with face to face support throughout the experience – have members of staff in situ to talk, reassure and help customers. If customers need to move to a different location, ensure that you have sufficient members of staff in place to clearly direct them
  5. Demonstrate to customers that you empathise with them – things will go wrong most humans acknowledge that, but if staff act as though it is just ‘part of the job’, it will only serve to irritate and frustrate

Norwegian failed to follow these steps. As a result, their overreaction to a problem and lack of support throughout the experience left a sour taste in the mouths of most customers concerned. Fortunately this type of thing does not happen on a regular basis – it is therefore unlikely to have a detrimental effect on customer loyalty toward the airline.

However, I very much hope that Norwegian (and other airlines for that matter) read this post – and the review I wrote the day before this event occurred. In that review I make it clear that whilst they are doing well in the delivering the experience they do, they must as a business be conscious of the complete ‘end to end customer journey’ – failures like this, whilst an exception, are part of that end to end journey.

It will not take much for them to improve the experience for the next set of passengers that find themselves on the receiving end of a cancelled flight. I only hope they can acknowledge that the way they approached the problem on Friday 12th December is requires improvement!