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


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

EXCITEMENT & ANTICIPATION = EXPECTATION 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Without customers you would not exist’ – an open letter to all CEOs on behalf of customers everywhere


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Dear Chief Executive Officers (of all companies in all industries everywhere)

I am writing this letter on behalf of your customers – consumers; businesses; young; old; male; female. For centuries, people have purchased goods and services from those able to provide things that are needed. From food to clothes to technology to construction to medicines. Companies have and still are being created to fulfil the needs of customers all over the world.

The reason that your business exists is because it is providing products or services that we – your customers need/want. If we did not need or want your goods or services, you would not exist. No business can exist without customers – a statement of the blindingly obvious, but one that too many companies fail to acknowledge. I say that companies fail to acknowledge it, as this is the only explanation for the appalling experiences that customers have on a daily basis.

Over the last few years, you (CEOs of organisations giving us what we want) have recognised the opportunities afforded by new technology. The phenomenon that is the internet has revolutionised the way your businesses are able to interact with customers. During this time, our (the customer) expectations have changed. We, the customer, now know much more than we ever did before. We know as much about your products and services as your own employees do, yet you still continue to serve up experiences that fall way short of what we expect.

Only yesterday, I was advised by the employee of a company to visit a website to ‘place my order’. This employee refused to help me ‘over the phone’. The website he referred me to did not even exist. Unbelievable. Recently I interacted with a large financial services business. They claim they are helping consumers – their actions could not have been more contradictory.

Well the customer has had enough. Stop treating us like fools. Stop taking advantage of us. Stop telling us how important the customer is but doing nothing to demonstrate that you actually mean it. If you carry on giving us bad experiences, we will go and find our products and services somewhere else. Is your company guilty of any of the following?

  1. Poor value for money
  2. Delivering unacceptable customer service
  3. Failing to keep promises (unreliable)
  4. Poor quality
  5. Difficult to do business with

If you can honestly say you are 100% perfect with all of these – we will not believe you. What are you doing to get better at these things? Get your head out of the sand and wake up and smell the coffee. Our expectations will only get higher and higher as time goes on. You need to demonstrate to us that your company is serious about caring about us – caring about the things we need. We want the whole experience to be good. Consistently good. If you fail to give us good experiences, we will stop using your company. No customers = no company.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that your attention as CEO is focussed almost entirely on your shareholders. Good luck to you in continuing to obsess about share prices whilst your company fails to deliver the experiences that your customers want. All the creative accounting in the world will ultimately fall down when you realise that in focussing on shareholders you have ignored what is happening to customers.

When did you last experience what your customer experiences? When did you last sit at a checkout or deal with a  complaint over the phone or go to a meeting with a customer? It is not good enough to simply agree to go on ‘Undercover Boss’ – you need to be understanding what it is to be an employee and a customer continuously. You need to ensure that your leadership team do the same. Feel what we feel and you should understand what works and what doesn’t work.

You need to keep reminding yourself and your teams that they too are consumers. Do you like it when you have a bad experience with a company? So why is it acceptable for you to do to your customers what you do not want to happen to you?

We are sick and tired of having terrible experiences. I hope (on behalf of customers) that you take notice of the essence of this letter. I hope (on behalf of customers) that you really listen to what it, and your customers are saying. The big question is this – if you carry on doing what you are doing today, do you think you will still exist in 1 year, 5 years or ten years?

Yours Sincerely

 

Ian Golding

 

Customer Experience is Dead – the case for the prosecution!


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Over the last ten years, I have observed and been part of a tidal wave of focus on Customer Experience. Despite the fact that customer journeys have always existed (although few actually realised it) and customers have always been willing to give feedback, it is only since the start of the new millennium that organisations began to recognise that doing the right thing by their customers might make sense. In 2014, we are seeing more companies than ever before ask us to tell them what we think. Businesses all over the globe are creating millions of wonderful looking customer journey maps. More employees than ever before have a remuneration package that is affected by improving customer perception. A whole new profession has been created, culminating in the founding of the Customer Experience Professionals Association – we even have a professional qualification in the form of CCXP – Certified Customer Experience Professional. Now more than ever should be a wonderful time to be a customer……………right? Or wrong?

In this blog post I am going to defend the indefensible – I am going to say that my previous statement is wrong. I am going to state a case for claiming that rather than being very much alive, Customer Experience is actually dead (if you will excuse the bluntness of the expression). Rather than being a great time to be a customer, we are sadly having more and more negative and unacceptable customer experiences on a daily basis. Using my own experiences as collateral, let me put forward my case for the prosecution:

Exhibit 1 – the broadband provider

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Two and a half weeks ago the Golding family lost Wi-Fi connection at home. Our Wi-Fi has always been a little bit hit and miss, but it has worked to a degree that we have not had to ask for help for over two years (since we switched from another provider). You do not realise how critical Wi-Fi is in your home until you lose it – a fundamental change in customer needs since the turn of the millennium. As soon as we lost connection, we contacted our provider for assistance.

In the subsequent two and half weeks, we have been lied to, fobbed off, and subject to inept customer service. We were initially advised that there was a problem on the line and it would have to be investigated by Openreach. We were told that someone would contact us when this had happened – no-one did. On re-contacting our provider, we were told that there was not a problem on the line and it was probably our router that was causing the problem – it was nice of someone to tell us. We were told that a new router would be sent, and given a delivery date.

You guessed it – that date arrived, but the router did not. On re-contacting our provider, we were told that a router had not actually been sent. By now, Mrs Golding was getting rather frustrated and upset. I am fortunate to know senior leaders in Customer Service or Customer Experience roles for many large UK companies. Our experience was so poor, I had to resort to contacting the Head of Customer Service for this company via LinkedIn – I hate to think how long resolution of our problem would have taken if I had not done this.

The new router arrived a day later. We finally thought this would bring an end to our Wi-Fi purgatory. You guessed it…..the new router did not work. To cut a long story short, the provider finally agreed to send a Broadband engineer to our home – he sorted the problem in thirty minutes. Why it took two and half weeks for this to happen is beyond me. This experience was as bad as experiences can get for customers. The experience generated a huge amount of unnecessary effort. The experience cost us money. The experience left us feeling frustrated and upset. We will not be customers of this Broadband provider for much longer. This company appears to be ‘sitting on the beach’ whilst the tidal wave of Customer Experience roars on past!

Exhibit 2 – the satellite TV company

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My family is not having much luck with technology at the moment, and around the same time we lost our W-Fi, we also lost the use of our satellite TV. Television, like many things, has changed beyond belief in the last twenty years. When I was the same age as my children, I was very happy to make do with four channels and a machine called a video player! In 2014, we have access to hundreds of channels, with the ability to view and record using the same ‘machine’. We can access ‘box sets’, watch recently released movies, and even view online TV services (such as BBC I-Player via Wi-Fi (if we had Wi-Fi that is!).

Unlike twenty years ago, the customer also has a great deal of choice. We can choose to watch TV for free (technically in the UK it is not free as we pay our TV licence) using a digital ‘freesat’ or ‘freeview’ box. If you want access to more channels, you can choose to buy your service from a number of different providers. We have been a customer of one of these providers for over ten years. In my book, this makes us a loyal customer. Our satellite box came to a grinding halt over two weeks ago – much to the distress of the Golding children (they do not watch much TV, but what they do watch is not available on freeview). Once again, we sometimes take for granted the things we have – once it is gone, you realise how much you rely on it. Like the kids, we do not watch much TV either – we tend to record a small number of things and watch them when we want – it is infuriating when that ability suddenly disappears.

On contacting the company concerned, it was confirmed that the box, which was over seven years old, had come to the end of its life. We were given the option to replace the box – but to do so, we would have to ‘upgrade’ to a new package. This would cost us £5 more a month than our current package. In other words, if you want a new box, you have to pay us more money.

I have been a customer of this company for over ten years. I have the potential to continue being a customer for another ten, twenty and possibly more years. Yet when I ask for the replacement of the box that provides the service, I am forced to ‘upgrade’ to a package I do not want! I felt as though the company were holding us to ransom – each time I phoned them I was given a slightly different story. It took two weeks of conversation for them to offer me a ‘compromise’ – we will pay £1.80 more a month for the new package we did not want in the first place. They will also replace the box for ‘free’.

Customers should not have to fight to remain a customer. I have always thought it wrong for new customers to be offered a better deal than long-standing loyal customers. The whole experience has left a very sour taste in my mouth. I do not trust this company and do not like the way they treat their loyal customers. When the deal comes to an end, they will lose this particular customer for good – and with it, the opportunity to receive twenty+ years more income from me.

Exhibit 3 – the ‘4 star’ hotel

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It is not just the world of technology that has served up unacceptable experiences for me over the last two weeks. Last week, I stayed for two nights on business at a stunning hotel in Surrey. I say stunning as from the outside, that is exactly what it was. I would go as far to say as it is one of the most beautiful looking hotels I have ever visited. Very sadly, the inside of the hotel is very very different. Stunning it is not.

Regular readers of my blog will have viewed my standard ‘Customer Experience Review’ format. I wrote a review of this hotel – if you want to read the detail, you can do so here. If you do not want to read the detail, I will briefly summarise. The hotel is part of a group that promises to deliver ‘quality, service and attention to every last detail’. You are right in guessing that they radically fail to deliver on all of these promises.

In three days and two nights, I received unacceptable service from disengaged employees. The accommodation was outdated, of poor quality and lacking on comfort. Basic facilities – such as the only lift on the hotel – did not work. I even bumped into a friendly cockroach in the hallway. I have read a number of publicly available customer reviews on this hotel – I am not the only one who has thought badly of it. I have also experienced other hotels owned by this particular group – my experience across two of their hotels is sadly consistent.

This hotel group have obviously missed the tidal wave of Customer Experience – either that, or their definition of ‘quality, service and attention to every last detail’ is VERY different to mine!


 

So there it is – my case for the prosecution. Broken promises; disengaged employees; unnecessary effort; customer dissatisfaction – sufficient evidence to suggest that Customer Experience is a very long way from being embedded in the culture of businesses. The question is, is this enough evidence to suggest that Customer Experience is therefore dead altogether? You will be pleased to hear that there is also a case for the defence – a case to prove that Customer Experience is very much alive – I will save that evidence for a future blog post.

As someone who benefits from helping organisations that have a desire to transform their organisation to deliver better customer experiences, I should be pleased that there are still so many businesses falling short of doing so. It actually gives me no pleasure to highlight examples like those you have just read. In doing so though, I genuinely hope that I am able to bring to life why a focus on Customer Experience is not yet something that we, the paying customer, can expect to receive on a regular and consistent basis. Despite the fact that the last ten years have seen a Customer Experience tidal wave, the wave is only gaining height and speed – it is yet to break. Customer Experience is not a fad – it is not a project. Customer Experience is why our organisations exist – failure to recognise that could be fatal. Customer Experience will never die – it is the businesses that fail to recognise the importance of it that will.

Do you have more evidence for the prosecution? I would love to hear it if you do. Just to re-iterate – I will be writing the case for the defence very soon!

 

Customer Experience – It’s pre-determined by culture!


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It is the 15th August 2013. We are slap bang in the middle of holiday (vacation) season! Friends, family, colleagues and associates are travelling by train, planes, boats and buses to destinations near and far. Some will stay within easy reach of home, others  will embark on exotic journeys half way around the world. I myself am desperately looking forward to our family holiday to Northern Spain and the South of France.

There are a number of inevitabilities about going on holiday. We will return poorer – having spent our hard-earned money on eating out, visiting the sights, buying souvenirs we really do not need, and indulging in copious amounts of ice cream (if you are me anyway!). We may return with a tan (obtained healthily and sensibly of course). It is even possible that we may be more relaxed at the end of the holiday than we were at the beginning (although this very much depends on a large number of factors – especially if children are involved!!).

One thing is for absolute certain – everyone enjoying a holiday this summer will be having a large number of experiences – customer experiences with a variety of people, companies and organisations. We will experience things at the very beginning of our holiday, right until the very end. The beginning and end will start in the country we reside in. The taxi ride to the airport. The train journey. The car parking experience. Those of us travelling abroad will fill our holidays with experiences interacting largely with people from a different country – and it is this point that has got me thinking (dangerous, I know!).

When you think about the customer experiences you have had in the past, or those that you are currently having, how different have the experiences been depending on which country you are in? Is the level of service you receive, or expect to receive, different depending on where you are in the world? Are the experiences we have as customers pre-determined by culture?

Last week we had a lovely meal with friends of ours. The friends in question are not native Brits. The husband is a national CEO of an international company. He has spent many years travelling all over the world on business. When I mean all over the world, I mean literally all over the world – he has visited well over 100 countries. When we go out for dinner, customer experience always pops up in the conversation (another one of those inevitabilities – much to Mrs Golding’s irritation). We started to talk about customer service and how it differs from country to country, culture to culture.

I asked where him where he has received the best customer service and the worst customer service on his travels. The Far East – was his immediate response for ‘the best’ – Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan – you can always rely on attentive, caring, respectful service. If I think of my own experiences of those countries and cultures, I would have to agree. I will never forget our first trip to the Maldives – the service and experience was second to none (even apart from the fact that the product – the beautiful golden beaches and crystal clear waters – was fist rate.

I will not tell you which part of the world he categorised as ‘the worst’ – that would not be fair. What I can say is that it was a very interesting conversation. Think about the countries you have visited yourself. The USA – famed for its ‘have a nice day’ culture – has always been proud of high levels of customer service and customer experiences. Like anywhere in the world, improvement is needed, but the underlying US culture is driven by good customer service, manners and respect.

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The UK is much more reserved – the British ‘stiff upper lip’ deems that sometimes service in this country can seem a little brusque, with less of a smile. Although customer service is regularly good,  I often feel as though there are too many people who interact with customers in the UK with a level of indifference that is reflected in society.

When you move into mainland Europe, culture differences are even more stark. I have always found customer service in Spain to be a little ‘direct’, sometimes appearing to be quite rude. Doing what I do for a living, I am sure that there is absolutely no intention of being rude, it is just the way things are done in that particular culture. In Germany, customer service is remarkably efficient (as you would expect), but sometimes delivered expertly without any perceived emotion or feeling.

A few years ago I delivered a training course in Singapore. I was treated like a king – wherever I went. It was a wonderful experience. There was an inherent pride in their culture that translated into the way they interacted with everyone. There are many other countries in the world that I have never visited. They will all have their own cultural differences that translate into the way they deliver customer service and customer experiences.

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Customer Experience is important wherever you happen to live on the planet. I have chaired and presented at conferences all over the world. But is the underlying culture of a country significant to the customer experience efforts of companies? Will your ability to deliver great experiences depend on which country your company operates in? In my opinion, the answer to these questions is yes. The culture of a country will determine the expectations and needs of customers within those countries. Customer experience programmes will need to be tailored accordingly.

So as you embark on, or return from your summer break, have a think about the experiences you had, and the customer service you received. Were there cultural differences? Do those differences suggest that customer experience is really a question of culture?

This is my last post before I leave for my own summer vacation. I am therefore taking a two-week break from blogging. I am pretty sure I will have lots of experiences to write about when I get back!

‘It’s a…..baby!’ The greatest experience of them all


As news breaks that the Duchess of Cambridge has gone in to early labour, the media furore that will ensure the world shares her joy (and pain) is already in full flow. With Our future King at her side, the Queen’s third great-grandchild will very shortly be with us.

There are few experiences that every human being can claim to have had a part of. Participating in the childbirth experience is one of them. We have all been there. Those of us who have had our own children remember the experience(s) only too well. It is unlikely that any of us remember our own experience of being born – we must be thankful for that!!

The news today inevitably will lead to parents all over the world recounting their own experiences of bringing little people in to the world. The experience is magical. It is an experience unlike any other – creating life is what life is all about. It is such an emotional experience that we remember everything about it. We remember what we were doing when we went into labour (I am using the royal we here – I am pleased it was Naomi and not I that had to do the hard bit!), the drive to the hospital, the smells and sounds………childbirth is the perfect reminder as to how experiences have an emotional component – the way experiences make us feel is something we do not forget.

Undoubtedly, Kate (if I may be so bold to call her that) will be having the exact experience stipulated in her birth plan. She will give birth in a room decorated to her requirements. She will have the midwife of her choice. The ambience, lighting, music, will all be to her satisfaction. Whilst she cannot guarantee how royal baby will behave on the way out, everything else will be planned to perfection. You can read about Kate’s delivery suite in the Sun newspaper (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/royals/royalbaby/5007373/Kate-Middletons-10000-delivery-suite.html). Just because Kate is producing a royal baby, does not mean that her experience should be better than any other mother giving birth today anywhere else in the world.

However, like any ‘customer’ experience, the experience that parents have of childbirth is mixed and inconsistent. The experiences regrettably lead to memories of the wrong kind – even when we are talking about one of the greatest experiences of them all. I remember very clearly the moment that Naomi went in to labour with Ciara – our eldest child – ten years ago. I remember Naomi’s waters breaking just as the theme tune to Coronation Street started. I am not sure if we ever watched ‘the Street’ again! Naomi was a week overdue, and we were slightly anxious.

We were a combination of excited and nervous. It does not matter how many ante natal classes you have attended, when the actual day arrives, you do not quite know what to expect. Ciara was born in hospital – like the majority of babies in the UK. We were expecting kind, attentive caring throughout the experience. That is what you would expect as the minimum ‘level of service’ from the childbirth experience. Yet what we experienced was a long way from what we expected.

It is important to note at this point that this blog post is not intended to openly criticise the midwifery profession. Quite the contrary. As you will read a little later on, it is without doubt how wonderful midwives are in the job they do. You only need to watch ‘one born every minute’ on Channel 4 to know that. Yet what we experienced proved how hard it may sometimes to be to maintain and sustain a certain level of experience – something many businesses find hard to do as well. To cut a long story short, our experience was not great. Whilst it was a wonderful miracle to see Ciara come in to the world, we felt as though we were an inconvenience to all the hospital staff. Ciara arrived during a shift change – the midwife finishing her shift could not wait to depart. The midwife coming in had a very different style to the first one. Naomi was very tired and in pain – she just needed someone to listen to her and care.

Fortunately, we had decided to hire the services of a Doula – a birth partner. Jo was amazing. Jo was the consistent support that we knew we could rely on. We are so thankful that we did. Without Jo, I am not sure as the wobbly husband how well I would have been able to support Naomi in the absence of empathetic hospital staff. What the staff displayed to us was behaviour of people who were ‘just doing their job’. That was just not good enough. We were going through the most amazing experience of our lives, and we NEEDED the staff to acknowledge that. Sadly they did not.

Our experience was such, that once we had decided to go for baby number 2, we immediately agreed not to go near a hospital – if we could help it! If you use this as an analogy for corporate customer experiences, this particular company had lost our custom. Failing to meet customer expectation will likely lead to a lost customer. Creating negative emotion will lead to a customer who will also tell many others about it.

Caitie, child number 2, was born at home. The experience was so far removed from the first time that it is difficult to put in to words just how different. The knowledge that we would be in our own home with a midwife that we had met before had a very warming effect on Naomi. Unlike the first time, Naomi actually went in to labour in the middle of the night. Being the lovely lady that she is, I was not even told! I do remember feeling Naomi’s breath on my face throughout the night, but that is about all. Naomi was so relaxed, she managed to sleep through the early stages, getting up in the morning and having a bath. By the time the midwife arrived, it was lunchtime. As quick as a flash, Caitie had arrived in our front room in front of the telly. Maybe that explains why she likes watching TV so much! It was all very civilised. It was such a wonderful experience. The contrast with Ciara’s birth was huge.

The difference between the two experiences were clear. The environment was one factor – there is nothing like being in your own home. But it was the behaviour and attitude of the two midwives that made the difference. They were amazing. They were attentive, caring and most importantly of all, listened to Naomi. They listened to how she felt, what she wanted and did not want. They did not force her to do anything she was not comfortable with. It was as we expected childbirth to be, and our faith was restored.

Just to complete our childbirth stories, I’ll quickly tell you about Jack – child number 3. Jack was also born at home – having read what you just have, you may not be surprised by that fact! Jack was more than two weeks overdue. The hospital was very concerned. We on the other hand were not. Daily heart rate monitoring confirmed that everything was fine. The hospital agreed, but were still demanding that Naomi be induced. Naomi was getting very anxious again. Naomi was listening to the scans and her body – she knew everything was ok – she did not want to be induced. We were so concerned, that we started to doubt that the midwives sent by the hospital for the homebirth would be supportive. Some of the language used by the hospital and midwives caused us to have considerable concern. We felt that we had no choice but to take matters in to our own hands. On the 6th November 2007 we hired a private midwife. She had been recommended to us. In the early hours of the 7th November, our private midwife arrived – Naomi had gone in to Labour. Just knowing that we could rely on an expert midwife who could match her expertise with the compassion we needed had the effect of relaxing Naomi. The birth was wonderful. The calmest and most serene of them all. It was as though the midwife was not there. She was worth every penny. The look on Caitie and Ciara’s faces in the morning when they came into our bedroom to see jack in mummy’s arms will never be forgotten.

Anyone in business can learn a lot about customer experience by looking at experiences we have every day and throughout their lives. There are so many analogies that we can learn from. Whilst you can not lay the same significance on an online shopping experience as you can one of life or death, the principles are very similar. It all comes down to the emotional component of customer experience – what are you going to remember about your online shop – the fact that the product was great, or the fact that the delivery was late?

I hope that Kate and William have only wonderful memories of what will happen today or tomorrow. I hope that the media will allow them to enjoy the wonder of what they are about to achieve. I am very sure that everyone involved will be doing their utmost to ensure that is the case. I also hope that all other mums and dads around the world that are also bringing new life in to the world receive exactly the same level of care and attention. We all deserve it – whether we are royal or not!

‘Up-selling = No-selling’ – how Clarins may be damaging their customers experience


What does this picture say to you? Trust me…..this is not a trick question. Let me hit you with some suggestions. It conjures up words to me such as ‘relaxing’; ‘sumptuous’; ‘luxurious’; ‘sensual’ – exactly the kind of things that would make any woman (and some men) smile if they were given a Clarins facial as a gift. The prospect of being given a wonderful facial with world renowned beauty products is one that not many people would take for granted.  It may therefore be a surprise to find me writing a blog on the subject of Clarins today.

I have had facials in the past – not many (I can hear some of you chuckling at this thought) – but enough to get the point. Like a massage (I have had a few of those as well – stop chuckling) a facial is intended to be relaxing and re-vitalising – a well earned treat. As long as the beauty therapist is not intent on attacking the multitude of blackheads that have gathered around your nose, most of the time you leave the building feeling exactly as you expected – relaxed and re-vitalised. So what has this got to do with the subject of customer experience?

Let me explain. Yesterday, whilst delivering a talk to a group of MBA students, I was asked whether customers always knew exactly what to expect – whether they always knew what they needed. It was a great question – the questioner went on to ask if organisations were sometimes guilty of trying to give customers things they did not always need. We only need to look at the fallout from ‘PPI-gate’ to recognise how prevalent the mis selling of products has been in recent times. There are many examples of businesses trying to sell things to customers they did not initially intend to buy.

When was the last time you went in to a WHSmith? Were you asked if you would like to buy a gargantuan chocolate bar for a discount at the till? In one of the new Clinton Card shops the other week, I was asked if I wanted to buy a pen when making payment – if I wanted a pen, I would have put one in my basket!! McDonalds are perhaps the most ‘expert’ at this phenomenon, forever asking you if you would like to ‘go large’ – if I wanted to go large, I would have asked for a large meal!!

‘Up-selling’ as it is often known is not a new concept. In my early days at Shop Direct Group, contact centre agents were expert at convincing a customer who had telephoned them to buy a pair of jeans that they should also buy a pair of anti bacterial gold velour pillow cases as well. Although the concept has ben around a long time, it is important to understand the effect it can have on the customer experience – and this is where Clarins comes in.

My wife, Naomi, was fortunate enough (or so I thought) to receive a Clarins facial as a gift for her birthday. It is not the first time she has received such a gift. Yesterday, Naomi went to have the facial in Chester. That evening, as any good husband should, I asked her how it went. ‘The facial was nice, but I hate they way they do it’, was the response. I was surprised by that, and so enquired further as to why.

If you have not been for a Clarins facial before, you may not know what actually happens. You do not just turn up, be greeted by a smiling beautician who shows you to a treatment room and carries out the facial. Clarins approach is to provide the customer with a beauty experience. Post the treatment, the customer is given a ‘Face & Body Care Skin Care Planner’- sounds very technical. It is actually a glossy product brochure disguised as a ‘consultation’ document.

The beautician took time to ‘diagnose’ Naomi’s skin, deciding which products she should use, and more importantly, which products Naomi should buy once the facial had been completed. Although Naomi has been a regular customer of Clarins products for years, the beautician wanted to ensure that Naomi knew exactly what products she had not been buying that she should now buy. The beautician even circled the products clearly in the brochure to make sure that Naomi would not forget.

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Now you might be thinking ‘what is wrong with that?’ – can you remember the suggested words that came to my mind when seeing a picture of a Clarins facial? They were ‘relaxing’; ‘sumptuous’; ‘luxurious’; ‘sensual’ – that is how you should feel after the facial has been completed. However, in Clarins endeavours to ‘up-sell’ product to you, during the post facial experience you are subjected to a sales process. If you are anything like me, I cannot stand people trying to sell me things I do not want, or indeed need. If I wanted to buy the products the beautician had just used on me,  I would ask her about them.

Naomi had experienced a facial with Clarins before – she knew the ‘hard sell’ was coming – it made her tense before the facial had even been done. The Clarins facial experience was sullied for Naomi by this strategy. I asked her if she would have chosen a Clarins facial (i.e. if she wanted a facial and it had not been given to her as a gift) – her answer was categorical – no. In fact, if asked by a friend or colleague if she would recommend a Clarins facial, Naomi would be unlikely to do so.

I have often referenced Bruce Temkin in my blogs, and I make no apology for doing so again. Bruce’s view of the three components that make an experience (below) is pertinent in this Clarins example. The emotional element of an experience is absolutely vital – especially if you want your customer to remember the experience for the right reason. Although Clarins may well succeed in selling product to many customers who have a facial or other beauty treatment, how many of them will come back again?

I do understand that people reading this may think I am barking mad. They may consider that ‘up-selling’ is a natural component of a retail strategy. Many business models rely on it. I also do not doubt that there are consumers who like to be ‘advised’ of products they may be interested in. As a result, I am not necessarily saying that Clarins are wrong to do what they do. However, it is clear that their process of ‘up-selling’ is to a degree in conflict with the principle service their customer is in this case experiencing. If they were able to ‘advise’, without it feeling as though they are ‘selling’, they may be able to deliver a better end to end customer journey.

One thing cannot be denied, in this example, a big brands process of trying to sell a product to a customer who has not asked for it has not worked. Not only did they fail to sell any additional product, Naomi’s experience is more likely to lead to negative sentiment when discussed with friends, thus eroding the value of the brand. If Naomi is representative of as little as 10% of Clarins customer base, the negative sentiment will be multiplied many times.

Any business trying to sell me something I have not actually asked for is going to cause irritation – maybe I am just easy to irritate! However, from experience I know that I am not alone. So if ‘up-selling’ is part of your business strategy, make sure you experience the customer journey for yourself. How does it make you feel? Make sure you ask customers – if it is not working, change it!

As always, this blog is representative of my opinion – an opinion you may not agree with. Your comments are always welcomed.