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!

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

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


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!

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

0 virgin media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer Effort – it’s real meaning through real stories (Vauxhall might want to read this!)

0 customer effort

This is not the first time I have written about the concept of customer effort. I doubt it will be the last. A few months ago I shared a story that described my interaction with an organisation as a little like having a tooth extracted – you can read that particular story here. The important point of the story is that the organisation that was the subject of it, Hertz, are no longer a company that I consider myself to be a customer of. The experience ‘pushed me over the edge’. Unnecessary customer effort can be fatal when it comes to your relationship with customers.

Since I wrote that story, I have used a number of alternative car hire companies in my home town of Chester. Relatively recently I switched to Enterprise – the experience they have given me has been markedly different (better) than any other hire car company I have used. I wrote a CX review on my perspective of Enterprise – you can read that here – it is very impressive. I never imagined that I would be connecting a brand that I have now become a ‘fan’ of with a story about Customer Effort, but what you are about to read demonstrates that even the best can get it wrong.

Before I share the story, I must point out that at a time when Customer Effort is being ever more discussed by organisations, I am hearing and reading stories every day that seem to suggest that the poor consumer is being subjected to ever increasing amounts of unnecessary ‘waste’! Being kept on hold; filling in forms; waiting for hours on end to get a response – just have a scan of Facebook and you will see enough evidence to write a book about it! The thing is, companies are losing customers (many of whom may have been loyal) as a result of it – much of the time it is completely avoidable.

So that leads me nicely in to a story that I believe was completely avoidable. Last week I hired a car with Enterprise – a Vauxhall Corsa. A nice little car that provides everything I need at a very affordable price. I drove away as satisfied as I always tend to be with the Enterprise experience. My need to hire a car at the moment is due to having work commitments in Surrey – a long way from Chester. A few days after receiving the car, I noticed a message on my phone. The message was from my Enterprise branch in Chester. The message advised that the car I had been given was subject to a Vauxhall recall. I needed to take it to a Vauxhall garage IMMEDIATELY. ‘Don’t worry said the message, ‘it will only take a couple of minutes to have it checked out’.

My instant reaction was one of annoyance. The week before I collected this car from Enterprise, I read in the news about Vauxhall having to recall around 20,000 cars. You may have seen that as well. My immediate thought was ‘why have Enterprise given me a car that is subject to a recall?’! I was not happy. Like all of you, I am very busy – when am I going to have time to take a car that is not mine to a Vauxhall garage?! I certainly could not do so the afternoon I received the message. However, with a long drive back to North West ahead of me the following evening, I really had no choice but to deal with the problem.

That night I identified a Vauxhall dealership closest to where I was staying – Now Vauxhall. In the morning I would have to take the car there and get it checked. If you know Staples Corner in North London (where Now Vauxhall is located), you will know that it is a rather busy traffic location. Situated at the start of the M1, getting to it can often be tricky – on this particular morning it took me 45 minutes to travel 1.5 miles to get a car checked out that was not even mine. My blood pressure was rising by the minute. As I walked through the front door of Now Vauxhall, I was not in the best of spirits. I had decided that I would have some VERY strong words to say to Enterprise about the whole situation.

Now Vauxhall, Staples Corner, North London
Now Vauxhall, Staples Corner, North London

Things did not get much a better. A lovely lady on the service desk wanted some information from me. My name, address, phone number, inside leg measurement etc… I must have said five times that the car was not mine – why did I have to give them this information? She could not answer the question. My frustration was steadily switching from Enterprise to Now Vauxhall. Having taken my details, I was asked to sit in the waiting area. As the clock ticked, more and more customers subject to the same recall started to arrive. It was a steady flow. The waiting area was getting busier and busier.

15 minutes went by and nothing happened. 20 minutes. 25 minutes. I was getting more and more frustrated. While I was waiting, I noticed hordes of Now Vauxhall staff (who I assume were sales staff) standing around chatting, laughing and joking with each other. They were doing absolutely nothing whilst dozens of their customers sat waiting for what I was told was a ‘2 minute job’!

At the 40 minute mark, I approached the receptionist. I was now getting desperate – I pleaded with her to just find out how long I would have to wait. She was not overly keen on finding out. The desperation in my eyes must have convinced her. A chap appeared from behind the service desk, went outside; came back less than a minute later and thrust the car keys back in to my hand. This man said absolutely nothing to me throughout that exchange. I kid you not – he did not say a word. Not even a little apology for keeping me waiting.

I wasted 90 minutes of my life last week – 90 minutes that I will NEVER get back. I am self employed. I cannot afford to lose 90 minutes – especially when I was spending it on a car that is NOT EVEN MINE!!!! A few days later I received a phone call from Enterprise in Chester. They wanted to apologise for what had happened. It was a good thing they waited a few days – I had calmed down a bit by then. They wanted to know what they could do to make the situation better. That is not what I wanted to hear. In a scenario where they have caused completely unnecessary effort for me, I wanted them to tell me what they were going to do. I do not want to hear excuses about why it happened – that is none of my concern. Just tell me what you are going to do to acknowledge that it should not have happened.

In many cases, I would turn my back on a company that subjected me to a situation like this. In the case of Enterprise I will not be doing so. I do trust them, and believe that they were genuinely sorry. If they do it again though, my reaction is likely to be very different. Vauxhall on the other hand is a different story. My experience at Now Vauxhall has confirmed one thing for me. I personally will NEVER be buying a Vauxhall. Now or in the future. They quite clearly do not care about their customers. They knew that 20,000 cars had been recalled – yet they were woefully unprepared to deal with it. Maybe I was just unlucky with the dealership I visited – it makes no difference. To me they were the face of Vauxhall that day. In a situation where they created unnecessary customer effort, they were neither prepared, sorry or empathetic to the time customers would have to put in to getting the issue that they created resolved.

Customer Effort can be fatal – for Vauxhall I am guessing it will prove to be so – I am unlikely to be the only person who will completely turn their back on the brand as a result of this debacle. I hope that stories like this allow others to understand the importance of dealing with customer effort. Mistakes happen – they always will. It is the way you handle them that will determine if a customer will come back to you in the future.

Update – 17th October 2014

The day I wrote this blog post, all of the organisations concerned contacted me – Enterprise, Now Vauxhall and Vauxhall Group. All have acknowledged the issues raised. I am particularly impressed with the response I received from Vauxhall Customer Assistance – it demonstrates a clear recognition and understanding of what happened, but more importantly, provides a clear view of how the business can learn from what went wrong. I believe that their response is a brilliant demonstration to all in dealing with a problem. I am delighted to share their response in full with you below:

Dear Mr Golding

I write further to our correspondence with you on Twitter today, and my voice message to you this afternoon.  I am sorry I was unable to speak with you directly, but I was keen to make contact with you after reading your blog entitled ‘Customer Effort – it’s real meaning through real stories (Vauxhall might want to read this!)’

We were very disappointed to read of your poor experience when visiting one of our authorised repairers, Now Vauxhall.  However, upon reading the details of your visit last week, we can very much understand your reasons for taking the time to put ‘pen to paper’.

I note from your blog that it was following a recall announcement for the Vauxhall Corsa that you had cause to visit the retailer in the first place.  Having read through the details of your visit I see immediately there are a numbers of learns to be had:

  • Dealership staff to recognise ‘peak periods’ within the business.  For example, first thing in the morning, or following a recall announcement when volumes of visitors may be greater than usual.  Sales staff to assist the service staff at these times, perhaps by helping with the checking in of vehicles or helping with admin etc.
  • Staff to be aware of the ‘2 minute jobs/waiting appointments’  and those which are longer bookings.  We want to try and ensure that a quick recall check such as yours does not end up ‘queuing’ behind an MOT & service, which is booked in for the day. 
  • From your report, on this occasion some of the dealership staff failed to demonstrate the customer service skills which we expect to be used in the workplace, when representing Now Vauxhall and Vauxhall Motors Ltd.  I regret that I am unable to offer an explanation as to why one service advisor failed to speak at all in his dealings with you.  This would seem to be one of the areas which also requires addressing.

The above suggestions, and your feedback, will all be passed to the Now Vauxhall Dealer Principal to review also.  This will ensure that areas of the business which require attention are addressed, in order to prevent such a situation arising again.

In the meantime, we would like to offer our sincere apologies that your experience when using our retailer was so poor, but thank you for taking the time out to let us know, and to make us aware.

Whilst I see from your blog that you have made a personal decision to never buy a Vauxhall, I do hope that you may consider accepting our apology.  I would like to assure you that this matter has been taken very seriously, and your comments will be used to help us demonstrate to our customers the high levels of customer service which should be expected at all times.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to respond, but please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any further queries.



Customer Empathy – ignore it at your peril!

0 empathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0 aer lingus response

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


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

0 lorna hann

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disney Store

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

Thank you very much for your recent contact with us.

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

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

Wishing you an Enchanting day!

With kindest regards,
My Favourite Disney Character is Alice

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

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

Thanks again Brian and Lorna for sharing the story.