TALKING is easy. STARTING is harder….. but SUSTAINING is the hardest Customer Experience challenge of all!


CX Challenge

Do you work for an organisation that aspires to ‘put the customer first’? Have you listened to senior leaders in your business talk about the importance of ‘being customer centric?’ Does your company have a ‘value’, or ‘vision’ or ‘mission’ that makes reference to ‘focusing on the customer’? How many of you work for companies that have actually STARTED to DO any of those things? How many of you work for businesses that have SUSTAINED those things over a long period of time? How many of you are confident that your organisation will be able to SUSTAIN the approach indefinitely in the future?

This may not sound like the most positive of starts to a blog post, yet the sentiment is likely to resonate with many. Over the last twenty years, I have worked in a variety of organisations across multiple industries who have all TALKED a very good game when it comes to being customer focused. If I had a Pound or Euro or Dollar for every senior leader who has uttered the words – ‘we want to put the customer at the heart of everything we do’ – I would have a nice little pile of cash! However, of all the businesses I have worked for, the overwhelming minority have been able to get to the ultimate state when it comes to actually being customer focused – the ultimate state that enables that organisation to SUSTAIN a continuous approach to actually being customer centric. Achieving a sustained approach to Customer Experience is without question (in my opinion), the greatest Customer Experience challenge of them all.

talk

Talking about Customer Experience is EASY. Literally anyone can do it. In a world where a significant number of working people still state that Customer Experience is a little ‘soft and fluffy’, those same people will still stand up and state how important it is for their business to put the customer at the centre of decision making. However, the startling reality is that there is still an overwhelming number of examples of organisations who are absolutely NOT putting the customer at the centre of everything they do – these tend to be businesses who are either very product centric, or shareholder centric or both.

I have worked with companies like this – I am sure you have (or do) too. It is so frustrating to walk into an overtly ‘non’ customer focused business who have banners or posters prominently TALKING about how  the customer is at the centre of their universe. TALKING about Customer Experience is EASY – but just TALKING about it means nothing if you do not actually do anything about it.

start cx

Many business who talk about Customer Experience have not even STARTED to do anything about it. If this sounds like a strange statement to make, you would not be wrong. Although ALL businesses are delivering customer experiences today (whether they are conscious of it or not), a huge number of them have very little idea of how capable they are of delivering an experience that meets and potentially exceeds the expectations of their customers. Some of these organisations do not even have clarity of understanding who their customers are in the first place. What makes this even more remarkable is that a large number of these companies are the ones who are TALKING about the importance of being customer focused!!

STARTING to introduce and embed a customer focused culture into a business, whatever size that business may be, is HARD. The reality is that to START actually being customer centric, an organisation must acknowledge that it may not actually be customer centric in the first place. That is why the transition from TALKING to STARTING is HARD. Acknowledging the need to be more customer centric is an incrediblly positive thing – it opens up a wealth of opportunity. However, acknowledging the need for improvement is sadly seen by many business leaders as an acknowledgement of failure – which may explain why these leaders may not think they have a problem in the first place.

Businesses that TALK about being customer focused but who do not know what their customers actually think of them must stop TALKING about it and START to understand how to actually do it – it is a big step, which is why STARTING is often a HARD thing to do.

sustain cx

Yet like most things in life, STARTING something is not nearly as HARD as finishing the thing you have started. In fact STARTING something that should in theory have no end to it is even HARDER. When it comes to Customer Experience, an organisation’s ability to SUSTAIN its approach to Customer Experience INDEFINITELY is without question the HARDEST challenge of them all.

I consider myself very fortunate to be working in a rapidly growing profession.  The fact that more and more businesses all over the world are not just TALKING about Customer Experience, but are now wanting to know how to START doing something about it is a hugely positive thing. However, the sad reality is that there are still painfully few examples of businesses who are seen as guiding lights – organisations who have so successfully embedded a customer centric culture that they have continuously SUSTAINED an approach to customer centricity over many years. That is why we often hear the same companies cited over and over again in benchmarking studies and Customer Experience Research as being true leaders in the field.

I recently published my own research into ‘what makes the worlds #1 CX brands‘ – brands such as Disney, John Lewis, Amazon, First Direct and Apple – were all in the top ten of companies considered as the #1 when it comes to delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. This was not a surprise to anyone – these companies are regularly named in similar studies. My research also highlighted WHY these companies are people’s #1:

  • Corporate attitude
  • They’re easy to do business with
  • They’re helpful when I have a problem
  • The attitude of their people
  • Personalisation
  • The product or service
  • They’re consistent
  • The way it makes me feel
  • The way they treat me
  • They’re reliable
  • They do what they promise
  • They’re quick
  • The technical knowledge of their people

The common characteristics of these organisations are characteristics required by companies who will have an ability to SUSTAIN a focus on the customer. Led by the attitude of the business, corporate culture is absolutely critical in SUSTAINING the TALK. Yet all of the characteristics highlighted in my research need to be SUSTAINED for a business to remain truly customer centric indefinitely.

SUSTAINING an approach to Customer Experience is without question the hardest challenge of them all. I am aware of a number of companies who STARTED to focus on it, but have since changed their focus. I have said many times in the past that Customer Experience is for life, not just for Christmas – our businesses exist to serve our customers – without them, we do not have a business. Whilst this is one of the most obvious statements of all time, why is it that too many businesses fail to recognise the significance of the statement?  The absolute key to SUSTAINABILITY is to embed Customer Experience so deeply in the culture of a company that it is not reliant on any one individual or group of people to SUSTAIN itself.

Customer Experience is the responsibility of everyone in an organisation. Everyone needs to TALK about it, START doing it and KEEP doing it to SUSTAIN it for evermore. Sounds so EASY – but in reality, it is so HARD to do!

The customer feedback experience – an experience not to be taken for granted!


taking customer feedback for granted

Last week I made a telephone call to my bank. A routine query, I chose to pick up the phone and call with my question, rather than use any other channel open to me. Having gone through the usual number selection process (or IVR as it is known technically), I was connected to a human. The chap I spoke to was very nice – he answered my question in less than thirty seconds. The entire experience lasted no more than 90 seconds ‘end to end’. All pretty simple. I disconnected the call without another thought.

Now you may be wondering what this rather banal story has to do with the subject of customer feedback. Let me explain. Approximately five minutes after I had concluded the telephone call with my bank my telephone rang. I was greeted by an automated message from the very bank I had just been conversing with. The message asked if I would be happy to participate in a short survey regarding my ‘recent’ experience. I was slightly taken aback. I had not given anyone permission to call my home telephone number to ask for my feedback on the call I had just made. The nice man I had spoken to did not say anything about it either. Rather than providing feedback, I disconnected the call with a sense of annoyance at what had just occurred – and that is why I am writing about the customer feedback experience.

For many years I have been troubled by one of the key pieces of the Customer Experience jigsaw puzzle – VOC (Voice of the Customer). I have not been troubled by the need for it – quite the contrary. VOC is one of three essential, obligatory elements of any Customer Experience measurement programme (VOP – voice of the process and VOE – voice of the employee being the other two).What has troubled me is the way organisations go about getting it – or in other words, the suitability and appropriateness of the very experience we put our customers through in order for us to find out what they think.

When was the last time you provided feedback to an organisation? Whilst we are able to deliver feedback without any prompting from the companies we interact with, the same companies are constantly trying to get us to tell them what we think via a variety of surveying methods. The same channels we use to conduct our transactions are also used to solicit our thoughts – both in words and numbers. Most of the methodologies used are the same today as they were many years ago – not a great deal seems to have changed. Doing what I do for a living, I often provide feedback when asked – I feel it is critical to allow companies to understand how I feel about my experience with them whilst I am always interested to understand what they want to know.

survey

So let me ask again – when did you last provide feedback to an organisation that asked you for it? What did you think of the experience of actually doing it? Did you even consider the act of giving feedback to be an experience in itself? Too often the experience of giving feedback is not a great one. Regularly faced with lengthy online surveys, many consumers become disengaged very quickly. That is why methodologies such as NPS (Net Promoter Score) and Customer Effort have been so successful – radically simplifying the capturing of information can make it a better experience for the customer in providing it.

The challenge for customer focused organisations today is that they need to be able to design the customer feedback experience in the same way they design their customer journeys. As with the customer journey, capturing customer feedback should have a clear business need as well as defining some form of clear purpose for the customer to align to. It is very common for me to come across customer feedback mechanisms that have defined neither. I therefore urge all those responsible for customer feedback in their organisations to consider the following:

Business Need

  • Do you have a ‘customer feedback strategy’ in place?
  • Have you mapped/designed the customer feedback experience?
  • Is your customer feedback mechanism(s) actionable?
  • Is your customer feedback mechanism linked to employee performance and incentives?

Customer Purpose

  • Do you know how your customers want to provide feedback?
  • Do you know what customers think about the experience of giving feedback?
  • Do you have any defined way of keeping customers informed of actions you take as a result of their feedback?
  • Do you have a defined strategy to maintain customer engagement in continuously providing feedback?

Businesses will always need measurable and actionable customer feedback to continuously improve the experience they have with their organisation. Unless companies get better at designing the experience of providing feedback, there is a risk that too many customers will just not bother to give it any more. The extremes of customer perception will always make their voice heard – the unsolicited voice of the very happy or very angry – via a variety of social media channels. However, if we want the silent majority to keep helping us make our businesses better at giving them what they want and need, we must ensure that we make the experience of giving feedback one that the silent majority can more comfortably engage with.

Businesses will always need measurable and actionable customer feedback – without it, sustaining a focus on customer experience in an organisation is made very difficult We must therefore NEVER take for granted that customers will carry on giving us the feedback that we so urgently need. Go and review your customer feedback mechanism today – walk the experience for yourself and ensure that you are able to maintain your approach to customer feedback in the future.

Customers + Employees = People. People = Business. Why Business is all about People


customers + employees = people

If you have ever heard me speak in public, it is very likely you will have endured hearing me recount my favourite quote of all time. I know that ‘quotes of the day’ are not everyone’s bag, but sometimes you hear someone say something or are referred to something someone in authority has said and their words touch you. A while ago, I had the pleasure of coming across these wonderful few words uttered by inspirational business author, Simon Sinek:

100% of customers are people. 100% of employees are people. If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business

This quote is the inspiration behind the image at the head of this post and epitomises the essence of what you are about to read. As I continue my personal journey of learning as a Customer Experience Professional, I am ever increasingly satisfied to discover that the thing that makes businesses successful; the thing that business is all about; is that thing we call PEOPLE.

Sounds obvious right? Maybe…. but ask yourself this. How many PEOPLE do you know work in an organisation that does not feel as though it is all about people? How many work in businesses that feel as though they are more about spreadsheets, or numbers, or tasks, or processes? In a world where there seem to be as many ‘shareholder centric’ organisations as there are ‘customer centric’, it is refreshing to come across businesses who genuinely do put PEOPLE at the very heart of everything they do.

Last week I found myself being fortunate (as I often am) to act as a judge at the first UK Employee Experience Awards.  The awards recognise and celebrate best practice in the delivery and improvement of outstanding employee experience – it is no coincidence that the awards have been created by the excellent Awards International who are also behind the UK Customer Experience Awards.  To deliver consistently good and great Customer Experiences, it is essential to also deliver as good and great employee experiences. To be a brilliant business, you must nurture and cherish all the PEOPLE who interact with you – that means customers and employees.

In London last week, I witnessed shining examples of role models – role models of leaders who were teaching, caring for, guiding, coaching, mentoring, empowering and generally inspiring the people they work with to do the very best for their customers, themselves and their business.  The people I saw were of all shapes and sizes – metaphorically speaking! From front line staff to team managers to CEOs – from financial services to utilities to retail. The thing these PEOPLE all had in common was remarkably easy for me to fathom – they all understand the importance of PEOPLE.

It was when one of the finalists said that his most important business principle was ‘adult to adult communication’ that I realised why the recognition that these awards purvey is so very important. Treating PEOPLE like adults in business sounds so startlingly simple, yet in my experience it is so utterly rare. Remember that I am talking about both customers and employees here. So often businesses talk to their customers as though they are still at school – the parent child relationship is  even more common for the poor employee.

The finalist who talked about ‘adult to adult communication’ was one of the very few CEOs present at the awards ceremony. As far as I am aware, he may have been the only CEO at the ceremony! Is it any surprise that he is the CEO of the company who only last year won an amazing 6 (six) UK Customer Experience Awards! Mark Horsley is the CEO of Northern Gas Networks – a business that the consumer on the street knows very little about, but a business that as a result of Mark’s humbling approach to empowering people is resulting in them becoming one of the most significant role models for any business in the world.

Mark and his people do not sell cutting edge, fashionable technology. Mark and his people do not have a compelling and seamless omni channel offering.  Mark and his people do not spend millions on adverting and big data. Mark and his people are responsible for putting pipes in the ground – pipes that enable energy suppliers to put gas into houses, offices and factories. They do it by a relentless focus on doing what is right for PEOPLE – customers and employees. The results speak for themselves – commercially and through the ever improving perception of customers and employees – PEOPLE!

Mark Horsley, CEO, Northern Gas Networks
Mark Horsley, CEO, Northern Gas Networks

Mark was as deserving a recipient of the award as any I have ever judged. Mark is a role model to anyone who ever aspires to lead a business. Mark accepted the award on behalf of his people (customers and employees) – I would have expected nothing less. This is not the first time I have written about Northern Gas Networks – it is unlikely to be the last. Who would have thought a company that puts pipes in the ground would have been a text book example to others as to how to deliver world class customer and employee experiences? The reality is that I am now teaching Customer Experience Professionals all over the world about this company – the company that as much as any I have ever seen bring Simon Sinek’s inspirational quote to life.

Northern Gas Networks understand that business is all about PEOPLE. The vast majority of PEOPLE present at the awards last week do too. This can only be an encouraging sign as the Customer Experience continues to work its way ever more into the business dictionary. We will never do away with spreadsheets and numbers and tasks and processes completely – nor can we – yet the shift towards a ‘PEOPLE FIRST’ culture in business does seem to be closer to reality than it ever has been.

What makes the the worlds #1 Customer Experience brands?


#1 CX Brands

As I quite literally travel the world talking, listening and working with individuals and organisations who have an interest in Customer Experience, I am regularly asked who the world’s ‘best’ Customer Experience brands are. ‘Who is good at CX?’ is a pretty typical question. It is a good question to ask and one that I can most certainly answer ‘in my opinion’. However, having been asked the question so many times, rather than me just citing my opinion, I thought I would go a significant step further and ask as many people as possible for their opinions.

In January 2015, I conducted an independent survey of people across the world to find out who their ‘#1’ Customer Experience brands are and most importantly WHAT makes them their #1. In this blog post, I am delighted to officially reveal the findings of the research. Some of the findings may surprise you……some of them will not. What you can be certain of is that the findings are likely to provide validation of the things that are the most common reasons for these brands ‘delighting’ their customers.


Customer Experience is not just for the big, bold brands

The first big surprise for me was that  94 different brands were mentioned as people’s #1 Customer Experience brand in just over 200 responses . It is fascinating and encouraging to see that great Customer Experiences are not exclusively the preserve of those with huge budgets. Many of the companies named by respondents are small, independent businesses who share a similar mindset with brands we’re more familiar with. What is not a surprise though is that the top four favourite brands accounted for 40% of the responses. We’ll find out later why it is that the same brands keeping topping this kind of poll, but first, let me acknowledge the top 10 #1 Customer Experience brands coming out of the research:

Top CX Brands

Other well-known brands such as Emirates, Premier Inn, Argos, Airbnb, USAA and Sky all received endorsement as a #1 Customer Experience brand. In the interest of balance, some of the names mentioned by respondents that you are less likely to have heard of are as follows:

  • Sixthman Music Festival Cruises
  • Jabong.com
  • Dutch Bros
  • Discount Tire
  • Hatem Shahim (a barber’s shop!)
  • Dyreparken i Kristiansand
  • Spear & Jackson
  • Wegmans
  • Firebox.com
  • e-bolt
  • Container store

Different countries and a variety of industries – the sheer number of organisations receiving a mention suggests that there are many doing something right – the question is – what exactly are they doing that warrants a customer such as you citing them as their #1 Customer Experience brand? Before we find out, let us just have a quick look at the commercial performance of the top 10 CX brands coming out of the research.


The right customer experience is commercially rewarding

The sheer mention of  ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Customer Centricity’, is still often greeted with a rolling of the eyes by those who are more focused on sales targets, operational efficiency and tasks. The irony though is that the former makes the latter much more successful. And it’s no coincidence that each of the top 10 brands has recent performance milestones to be proud of:

  • Amazon Q4 14, net sales increased by 15% over Q4 13
  • Apple 39.9% profit per product (3 months to end Dec 14)
  • First Direct Moneywise “Most Trusted” and Which? Best Banking Brand
  • John Lewis profit before tax up 12% in 2014 vs 2013
  • Disney Earnings per share up 27% in year to Dec 2014
  • Air New Zealand Earnings before taxation up 20% in H1 15 vs H1 14
  • Mercedes Revenue increased 12% from 2013 to 2014
  • Starbucks Revenue rise 13% in Q1 FY15
  • BMW 7% increase in vehicle sales in Jan 15 vs Jan 14
  • Boden Shipping 12,500 parcels each day

Pretty powerful stuff. Is it just a coincidence that the brands you are saying are the best at Customer Experience all seem to be faring pretty well on the commercial front? It appears as though all of the brands that are ‘great’ at Customer Experience share common characteristics – in fact the research identifies 13 common characteristics that are the reasons WHY these brands are #1 in your eyes. Lets us have a look at the ‘lucky’ 13!


These organisations have common characteristics

I wanted to know what it is that your favourite brands do to make them your #1 at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. I asked for up to three reasons from each respondent and received 575 comments. Following verbatim analysis,  13 categories were identified, each distinct but interlinked. They were, as follows (with the percentage frequency they appeared):

  • Corporate attitude 15.9
  • They’re easy to do business with 14.9
  • They’re helpful when I have a problem 11.4
  • The attitude of their people 9.4
  • Personalisation 8.0
  • The product or service 8.0
  • They’re consistent 7.5
  • The way it makes me feel 6.3
  • The way they treat me 5.1
  • They’re reliable 4.4
  • They do what they promise 4.2
  • They’re quick 2.6
  • The technical knowledge of their people 2.3

We will look in more detail at what we mean by each of these in a moment but to view at any one in isolation would risk limiting what is being achieved by these organisations. This diagram shows how interdependent each area is in aligning with the corporate attitude and ultimately organisational goals and the very purpose for why the business exists:

characteristics of #1 cx brands


So what do the most favourite companies do, exactly?

Focusing on these attributes is what moves companies from fighting a rear-guard action to fix issues of their own making to creating a compelling a sustainable brand for the future. It also means that customers are increasingly exposed to better experiences as they go about their daily lives and that’s important because it keeps nudging the bar of expectations higher. This is why the brands that do these things are ones that people consider to be the very best at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. Digging deeper into each of the 13 areas we can build a picture of how the companies who get it right control the way they do business.

1. Corporate attitude

It’s another way to describe organisational culture and it underpins everything that happens to or with a customer. More specifically, in the words of those who responded to the research, companies who have the right attitude:

  • put people before profits and non-human automation
  • know they’ll make more money in the long-run with this approach
  • test all experiences thoroughly (to eliminate unintended consequences)
  • listen and demonstrate they understand their customer
  • pay serious attention to detail
  • empower their staff to makes decisions and act straightaway
  • stay true to their values, admit when things go wrong and fix them
  • ensure their staff are fully trained and informed
  • recruit for attitude and alignment to brand values

They also said: “…they treat each customer as we would a guest in our home” and “…they balance customer obsession, operational excellence and financial rigor”.  Almost every other category is a sub-category of this one; it shows how important the right culture is.

2. They’re easy to do business with

It’s obvious to say a company should be easy to do business with and yet that’s not always the case. What respondents meant by “easy” included:

  • there are no barriers in the way for doing what a customer needs to
  • it’s simple to get information, purchase and use the product
  • needs are anticipated and catered for
  • customers don’t need to repeat information
  • they can switch from one channel to another with no impact on progress
  • products can be returned or fixed with minimum effort on the part of the customer
  • they are available when and where customers want; they can be reached without waiting and won’t limit the hours of their support functions to office hours if customers are still using their products and services all day every day
  • they are proactive in taking responsibility, eg finding products at other stores and having them delivered
  • customers have no objection to self-service because it has been well thought through
  • information is presented in a timely, clear and relevant way

3.  Helpful and understanding when I’ve got a question

Being easy to deal with is critical when a customer needs help or simply has a question. On the assumption that good companies do respond (a recent Eptica survey found more than 50% of online inquiries go unanswered), helpful companies are ones who:

  • listen to understand before acting
  • give a customer the feeling that they are trusted and respected
  • will provide an answer and additional, relevant help
  • provide certainty and manage expectations about what will happen next and at each stage
  • empower employees to make decisions
  • resolve issues first time and quickly
  • have employees who are happy to give their names and direct contact numbers
  • preempt problems and solve them before customers are aware
  • fix customers’ mistakes without blame or making them feel awkward
  • follow-up afterwards to check everything was sorted and is still as it should be
  • are not afraid to apologise when they get it wrong

4.  Attitude of the people

Individual employees who are interacting with customers become a proxy for the brand. If they demonstrate the wrong behaviours the damage can be hugely expensive but getting them right does not cost a huge amount of money. Most often a function of the corporate attitude, the most appreciated characteristics are:

  • being courteous and friendly
  • a positive, “I’ll sort it” attitude
  • they are good at listening
  • it’s obvious they care about, and are proud of, the product/service
  • they are professional and not pushy
  • they are helpful and proactive
  • they are genuine and humble
  • they smile
  • hey are engaging and interested in the customer
  • they have personality, not a corporate script
  • they are patient
  • they show respect for their fellow colleagues

5. Personalisation

We are all individuals and like to be treated as such. Having “big data” was seen as the answer but as these companies demonstrate, it’s not only more important to have the right data and do the right things with it, but it’s also linked again to corporate attitude. Those who get the personalisation right:

  • understand, anticipate and are proactive
  • keep customers informed with relevant information
  • shows they listen and act, not just collect feedback
  • create a relaxed environment because a customer’s needs fits neatly into what they are offering
  • create a feeling of respect, that they care and have “taken the time to know me, to make things easier for me”
  • make it feel like dealing with a person where there’s a connection, not just a transaction
  • allow their customers to control the degree of personalisation in terms of frequency and content
  • remain flexible and adaptive to the circumstances, not scripted

6. The product or service itself

Making it easy, personal and rewarding will be wasted effort if the core product or service doesn’t live up to expectation. At the end of the day, your business has to have something of value to the customer to sell! When it comes to products and services, the #1 Customer Experience brands are those who:

  • the right mix of choice, relevance, quality and innovation
  • well designed, so it is easy to get it to do what it’s supposed to
  • quality is complemented by relevant innovation, not technical innovation for the sake of it
  • obsessive about the detail
  • paying as much attention to secondary products, such as food on airlines
  • good at turning necessary evils into compelling attributes – Air New Zealand’s legendary on-board safety briefings, for example
  • adept at keeping up with, ahead of and shaping basic expectations

7. Consistency

As customers we like certainty and predictability. It means that the decisions we make carry less risk because we can confidently trust the outcomes. It also demonstrates stability of, and a shared understanding of, strategy. For our respondents, consistency is about experiences that:

  • look and feel the same
  • can continue easily wherever, whenever and however
  • match or build on the positive expectations created last time
  • have continuity in not only what happens but how it happens; tone of voice, quality, different locations, store or franchise, people and processes, performance
  • provide the same reliable answers to the same questions
  • integrate with other services

8. The way it makes me feel

Emotions are a function of how good the other two cornerstones of Customer Experience – function and accessibility – are. How they were made to feel, whether intentional or not, is what people remember. Being the personal consequence of most if not all the issues covered here, it is what drives our behaviour about whether or not we will do the same next time and tell others to do the same. If people think they are part of something special, connected to a company that lives by like-minded values, they will FEEL special. And as human beings, we appreciate that. Survey espondents cited a number of great examples:

  • “get on an Air New Zealand flight anywhere in the world it already feels like you’re home”
  • “the packaging increases the anticipation when opening a new product” (Apple)
  • “interactions with employees don’t feel like processes out of an operating manual”
  • “there is (the perception of) a genuine relationship; it’s not just about them selling every time they are in touch”
  • “they make me feel as if I’m their only customer” (Land Rover)

9. The way they treat me

At the root of how we feel and therefore behave is often down to how we are treated. Good and great companies have experiences that:

  • demonstrate respect
  • show an empathy with customer needs
  • don’t do things like asking a customer to repeat information if handed from one colleague to another
  • keep customers posted on feedback they’ve given
  • recognise their customers both by staff individually in-store and organisationally
  • have a consistency of treatment even when not spending money in-store
  • create relevant retail environments so that customers feel they are treated as if they are somewhere special
  • develop meaningful loyalty programmes that acknowledge past purchases and reward future ones
  • are not patronising in tone

10. They’re reliable

Not surprisingly, reliability is cited as a key attribute. Although we simply expect things to work as they did last time or as it was promised, we probably won’t get too excited if that is the case. However, the consequences of it not happening will result in additional time, effort, inconvenience and sometimes cost to the customer; not what a brand would want to be blamed for. There are some markets where the mere hint of a lack of reliability in its truest sense has serious consequences for a brand. More generally, reliable customer experiences are ones that

  • give confidence and a level of trust that what we ask for when we buy is what we get; there are no nasty surprises
  • understand that they are key to repeat purchases and advocacy. No-one will put their own reputation on the line to recommended any brand product or service that is unreliable

11. They do what they promise

Again, this is a character trait we appreciate in friends, family and colleagues and it’s no different when dealing with a business. It can be seen as a subset of “the way they treat me” but it is also critical at a strategic level too; the brand is what people say it does and so that has to be consistent with what it’s promising, just as its employees need to keep their own promises to customers too. There’s a real financial benefit here too where unnecessary and costly rework can be avoided. How many enquiries coming into the business are because “You said you’d get someone to call back”, “You said you’d send me a copy of that statement” or “Where’s my fridge, I’ve had to take the whole day off work and there’s still no sign of it”. Customer experiences that do what they promise:

  • live up to the expectations they set
  • have employees that do what they say they will do
  • do it all consistently
  • fix it quick if they fail
  • are good at managing expectations

12. Quick

As customers, time (alongside money) is a commodity we trade with. A company who appreciates the finite and precious nature of it will create a distinct advantage. In today’s everything-everywhere-now life it’s not surprising that speed is an issue. Expectations are rising all the time where customers interacting with other brands see what can be done. Quick customer experiences are ones that:

  • move at the right speed for customers
  • show respect by having have good reaction times once a customer has initiated part one of a two-way activity
  • manage expectations, so if it’s not “quick” as defined by customers there are also, no disappointing surprises
  • are not just focused on speed of delivery but are quick to answer the phone, flexibility to find ways around rules and respond to questions

13. People knowledge

Having people who are technically competent with their product knowledge is another character of top brands. Companies that possess employees like this have an invaluable asset who are:

  • able to translate the concerns and questions
  • able to articulate complex issues in simple language
  • are not patronising
  • are proud that their knowledge can help someone else

So what?

There is no shortage of good and great experiences to learn from and they bring favourable commercial results to the companies that do have them. They don’t have to be high-tech out-of-this-world experiences; simply knowing what the basic expectations are should not be that hard and delivering them well time after time should just be the norm. This independent research also shows that it’s a combination of characteristics that matter, not one in isolation. That said, experiences, customers and balance sheets are always given an essential boost where having the ‘right attitude’ is the common thread running right through the organisation.


 Thank You!

A huge thank you to all those who participated in this research – without you giving up your valuable time and insight, I would not be able to share such valuable output.

An even bigger thank you to my friend and colleague, Jerry Angrave. Not only has Jerry co-authored this post, he also conducted the detailed analysis of the research results. A brilliant CX mind, he is also one of the most genuine Customer Experience practitioners I have ever met. You can read more of Jerry’s work at empathyce.com – I strongly encourage you to do so!

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 customer is not always right…..BUT be careful how you respond when you think they are not!


47 king street west

It is very likely you have not heard of 47 King Street West – a French restaurant based in Manchester in the UK. Although you may not have heard of it, it is possible that the eatery will become infamous as an example of how NOT to respond to customer feedback. When an organisation considers its strategic approach to Customer Experience, it is important it accepts that ‘perfection’ is not realistic. All businesses will get things wrong – it is inevitable. Customers are now free and able to tell the world when they feel you have got it wrong. It is how you deal with things when they do go wrong that can often be the difference between the best exponents of customer centric behaviour….. and the worst!

So let me fill you in on the 47 King Street Story. In 2013, the restaurant was awarded a Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor. At the time of writing this blog post, it still has a ‘four star’ rating on the TripAdvisor site…… whether or not it will still have this rating by the time I finish writing this post is a different matter!! To all intense and purposes, 47 King Street appears to be a restaurant that could quite comfortably feature on your list of places to eat in the North West of England.

However, closer inspection of TripAdvisor reveals that all might not be as well as it seems. You only have to scroll down to the review posted on the 28th February 2015 – it does not make good reading (for the restaurant that is):

47 king street west1.jpg

If you were the owner of this establishment, you would quite rightly be horrified to read this brutally honest feedback from a customer – a customer who had no doubt spent a significant sum of money in your restaurant. You would also appreciate that it in 2015, any customer has the ability to share their experience with millions of others at the click of a mouse.

Anyone reading this review has a choice – a choice to believe everything contained within it, or to look at the balance of all reviews and form a rounded opinion of the restaurant. One would expect that when a negative review of this nature has been posted online that the company concerned would leave a suitable response to clarify the situation – whether the customer was right or wrong. At the end of the day, the internet is now as much of your shop window as your physical premises are.

In the case of 47 King Street West, the manager of the restaurant DID respond to this review……just not in the way you may expect. Although his comments have been removed from their social media streams, here is his unedited response posted on Facebook:

47 king street west2.jpg

Describing customers as ‘the chaviest worst most vile people ever to grace our restaurant’ is perhaps not the best response to their feedback. To dish out a tirade of abuse dismissing those customers as ‘trash’ is almost unbelievable. To  do it so publicly is remarkably naive. The problem with the way that 47 King Street responded is that other potential customers are now likely to base their opinion of the restaurant on his behaviour – even if his customers were wrong, you just cannot do what Mike Hymanson, the owner of 47 King Street has done.

The visibility of this story is only just picking up pace – how viral it will become is yet to be seen. Mr Hymanson has now described the incident as regrettable (not surprising really!) – it is not clear whether he has directly apologised to the poor customer concerned. You can read more about the incident here.

Learning how to deal with customers who you perceive to be wrong is vitally important in maintaining the credibility of your brand and the experience it is intending to deliver. In the same way that you do not want to do something to affect your personal credibility in the future, it is just as important to not ‘retaliate’ in a way that makes the situation worse.

Only yesterday, on an Easyjet flight from Athens to London Gatwick, I witnessed what I saw as completely unacceptable behaviour from a customer. There is no doubt in my mind that I was observing a scenario where the customer was undeniably wrong. The customer was not particularly pleasant from the moment she got on the plane. Carrying her baby daughter, she seemed to expect that the seat next to her should be vacant. The bemused passenger sat in the seat kept her cool remarkably well. The excellent cabin crew managed the situation brilliantly and were able to move the bemused passenger to another seat.

Sensing all was well, I sat back and prepared myself for a restful flight. Shortly after take off, with the fasten seat belt sign still lit, the ‘unpleasant’ passenger unbuckled her belt and vacated her seat to get something from the overhead luggage rack. A member of the cabin crew walked down the aisle and asked her very politely to remain seated until the ‘fasten seat belt sign’ was switched off. A perfectly reasonable request I am sure you will agree. The passenger responded with a torrent of very strong words including – ‘leave me alone’; ‘I am pregnant and you are going to make me miscarry’; ‘why do you treat passengers like this?’

It was really quite unbelievable. The cabin crew members response was in my view the perfect example of how to respond. She replied in a steady, polite, and confident manner – ‘I understand madam’. ‘Please take your seat as quickly as you feel comfortable’. Although quite clearly shaken, the Easyjet employee did exactly the right thing. She did not retaliate. She did not quote policy or procedure that would most likely rile the passenger even more. She quietly left the customer to it.

Now imagine what COULD have happened if she had responded in a different way? What COULD have happened if she demanded that the passenger be seated (as I am sure she had every right to do)? It is perfectly feasible that this lady could have resorted to social media to say how a pregnant lady travelling with a baby was mistreated by Easyjet cabin crew.  It COULD have gone viral, and got in front of the eyes of journalists. Instead, a potentially damaging situation will never be heard of again. In fact the actions of this excellent ambassador for Easyjet almost certainly won her the admiration of other passengers on the plane, thus enhancing the reputation of her company.

Customers will not always be right. Customers who are not right are able to share their thoughts with the world. As the owner of a business, whether you think they are right or they are wrong, it is absolutely critical that you deal with their feedback in a way that does not detrimentally and potentially fatally damage your business. The end to end journey for many consumers now starts with the assessment of feedback found online – the last thing you want is for them to see the public face of your organisation publicly abusing customers who leave what appears to be honest feedback.

The phrase ‘feedback is a gift’ is often an overused term. I personally believe it is and always will be the perfect phrase for describing feedback. Like all gifts, handle it with care!

Opinion or Reality? Does Customer Experience really make a difference?


CX opinion or reality

I am unlikely to be the first person to write an article focusing on whether or not the Customer Experience really makes a difference. I am also unlikely to be the last. On a weekly basis, Customer Experience Professionals all over the world are being challenged to demonstrate the ‘tangible’ value focusing on the Customer Experience really delivers. Often tasked by individuals in businesses who demand to see an immediate financial return for any investment made, it is extremely easy to dismiss the need for being a more Customer Centric organisation as just the ‘opinion’ of one person versus another.

In other words, some do not believe a greater focus on ‘the customer’ will actually make any difference to the financial performance of a company whilst some do. It is the prerogative of any human to have an opinion – it is also completely acceptable for one human to disagree with another humans point of view. I have recently been engaged with a debate that highlights just such a scenario. It was suggested that I spend too much time quoting theory and opinion when it comes to the subject of Customer Experience and not enough time sharing reality. It is therefore with this in mind that I have chosen to write this post.

The debate I refer to came about as one opinion (mine) suggested that negative Customer Experiences have a detrimental effect on an organisations sustainability – in the short, medium and long term. Whilst an organisation may not cease to exist as a result of delivering consistently poor (or just inconsistent) experiences, it is extremely unlikely that a business operating in such a way will be able to predict growth – certainly not sustainable growth.

The opinion on the other side of the debate suggested that this is largely nonsense – the ‘speak of Customer Experience folk’. The debater argues that if the opinions of the Customer Experience community were true, then businesses would be ‘bleeding revenues’ and ‘the management would be kicked out’. The very well read and respected professional on this side of the debate continued as follows:

Almost every business is doing well enough by doing well enough for most customers most of the time. And this works well enough for customers at the level of behaviour – irrespective of what they say. Complaining is a favourite human past time in modern society. It is like going to the movies. Then the movie is over, and folks go back to life as usual.

So this valid opinion made me seriously question the very profession I work so passionately to represent. Does Customer Experience really make a difference? Is the reality that whilst it is ‘nice’ to talk about the principles of being more Customer Centric, the reality is that a business more focused on the customer will fare no differently to one that does not?

Those of you that ‘believe’ that focusing on the Customer Experience absolutely does make a difference will be pleased to know that  agree with you! My ‘opinion’ has not changed as a result of the challenge from an alternative perspective. Allow me to explain why. The debater set me a very valid challenge as follows:

Now please explain to me how it is that the almost every single business is doing just fine: customers continue to shop, companies continue to make sufficient revenues, and profits. The only ‘thing’ that gets cut is the employees – including those who directly serve customers – and replaced by one form or another of self-service. Let’s deal with this through numbers. Name the companies that have gone bust? Name me companies other than Ryanair and Tesco that are struggling because they have leaked customers like a sieve?

This was my response:

Please allow me to remind you of the following company names:

Woolworths; Comet; Land of Leather; Borders; JJB Sports; Zavvi; HMV; MFI; Jessops; Focus DIY; Habitat; Threshers; Dreams; Clinton Cards; Peacocks; Past Times; Barratts; Phones4U; TJ Hughes; Ethel Austin; Oddbins; Adams (childrenswear); Allied Carpets; I could go on…… and bear in mind that I am only quoting names of UK companies who have either entered administration or ceased to exist altogether in the last seven years.

Yes these failures occurred during a financial crisis. However, the crisis only served to push companies over the edge – companies who were already teetering at the top of a cliff. In almost all cases, these brands had lost touch with the evolving needs of their customers and the world around them. Failing to adapt their propositions resulted in customers voting with their feet – the predominant reason why a business ultimately will cease to exist.

Companies struggle to survive on a regular basis – again this is largely down to the fact that their product, service or experience is no longer aligned to the needs of their customers. Look at Nokia, Kodak, Radio Shack – this is not just a UK phenomena.

In fact I would like to remind you of the most clear cut example of all – JC Penney. In 2011, as the new CEO of one of the largest department stores in the US, Ron Johnson (once of Apple) made a number of strategic decisions without the benefit of either employee or customer insight. Johnson decided to change the established logo, change the pricing policy (including the halting of sales and the elimination of coupons). He also changed the layout of the stores. A very traditional business with an extremely loyal customer base, the decisions were catastrophic. This is an excerpt from his profile on Wikipedia:

Many initiatives that made the Apple Store successful, for instance the “thought that people would show up in stores because they were fun places to hang out, and that they would buy things listed at full-but-fair price” did not work for the J.C. Penney brand and ended up alienating its aging customers who were used to heavy discounting. By eliminating the thrill of pursuing markdowns, the “fair and square every day” pricing strategy disenfranchised JC Penney’s traditional customer base.Johnson himself was said “to have a disdain for JC Penney’s traditional customer base. When shoppers weren’t reacting positively to the disappearance of coupons and sales, Johnson didn’t blame the new policies. Instead, he offered the assessment that customers needed to be “educated” as to how the new pricing strategy worked. He also likened the coupons beloved by so many core shoppers as drugs that customers needed to be weaned off.”

By the time he was fired in 2013, JC Penney had lost over $4 billion during Johnson’s tenure. Having fired him, they launched a nationwide TV advertising campaign apologising to customers and ‘begging’ them to come back.

JC Penney apology

This is the reality of what could happen if you do not listen to your customers or employees. Just because a company still exists, it does not mean it successful at delivering consistently good customer experiences. The challenge is for business to achieve sustainable growth – all good things come to an end eventually if you do not remain focused on both commercial goals AND customer needs. You can read more about the JC Penney story in this Forbes article.

The reality is that nothing lasts forever. Organisations thrive, whilst others struggle. Businesses cease to exist on a daily basis. The larger the organisation, the more unlikely it is to fail altogether – but it is not impossible. As we have seen with the likes of Tesco and Marks and Spencer in recent times – failure to continually adapt your proposition to align to the changing needs of your customers will likely result in financial struggle.

The reality is that even already financially prosperous companies have realised how important the Customer Experience is to their future sustainability. I have had a number of conversations with board members of very large UK companies since January – these are companies whose financial fortunes have IMPROVED consistently since 2008. However these companies have openly acknowledged that unless they put the Customer Experience at the top of their priorities NOW, the future will not be as rosy.

This is not opinion. This is fact. This is reality. Does Customer Experience really make a difference? I will leave it for you to form your own opinion.